“Pain is just weakness leaving your body!” A saying made popular by the USMC and used by many exercise enthusiasts, coaches, physical therapists and trainers to help motivate people through a tough workout…but is it necessarily a true statement? In some cases, yes!
Now I am not advocating exercising through sharp, searing joint and muscle pain…that just wouldn’t be good for anyone, except maybe the orthopedic surgeon who would get to do your reconstructive surgery. What I am advocating is that during exercise, in order to improve your stamina and strength, a little bit of pain is quite alright.
So how do you know what pain to work through and what pain not to work through? That is where experience (and advice) comes in. You have to know your body and if you are a regular exerciser, you have come to appreciate the soreness you have after a “good workout” or the “burn” you feel when doing those last few extra repetitions or working that hill during your run. You wake up the next day knowing you had a good workout because you have some general muscle soreness. Now if you wake up the next day and have some general joint swelling, that is a completely different story.
One of the main reasons that new exercisers stop a program is because of exercise induced muscle soreness. Some refer to this as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. With DOMS you will get muscle soreness and stiffness that sets in somewhere between 12 and 72 hours after doing some exercise. One of the ways our body “builds” strength is through a breaking down and re-healing process and starting a new exercise program, adding a “new move” or advancing yourself too quickly can lead to more breaking down than your body is used to and the result is the delayed onset soreness.
At Blue Hills Sports & Spine, we practice a philosophy of physical therapy that is heavy on the “physical” part. We work people out and we expect there to be some level of DOMS as we initiate a program. What we don’t want to cause is extreme DOMS which can sometimes cause soreness for up to a whole week in duration. Everybody responds a little different to exercise and also has different responses to soreness…but it is normal and it doesn’t cause damage. Believe it or not, one of the best things to do to alleviate DOMS is to return to some light exercise to get some circulation going again, and the good news is that returning to the “scene of the crime” generally won’t cause nearly as much soreness as the last time you did the same workout.
How can you prevent DOMS? You really can’t…if you are going to work out, getting sore is part of the process. There are some steps you can take to reduce the intensity of this soreness though:
1) Progress slowly with a new routine…if you haven’t worked out in years, don’t try to pick up where you left off.
2) If you are increasing your weights or running/walking distance, try not to increase more than 10% at a time.
3) Drink plenty of fluids during and after exercise to keep well hydrated
4) Do an active cool down
If you do get DOMS, remember…the pain will go away in a few days no matter what you do, so don’t let it discourage you from continuing your exercise program. Remember, in this case “Pain is just weakness leaving your body.”
Michael Vacon, PT
Regularly Sore Exerciser