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Pain and Gain: Fact or Fiction?


pain after exercise

Just about every athlete, active person, and couch potato has heard the phrase “no pain, no gain”. Usually it is applied when someone is feeling pain after or during a workout or practice, or after a game or an activity. The reality of pain is that it can be a symptom of potential improvement, and a sign that you should seek advice or help.


What is “Good” Pain?


When we start a new activity or exercise, often times a person will experience a sort of “growing” pain. If it has been a really long time since we worked out, for example, we can have muscle pain and soreness, due to the increased demand. When we work a muscle beyond it’s present tolerance, we have changes in the muscle. Too much, and we can get injured, but just enough, and we can get an improvement in strength, mobility, and endurance.


When we have post-workout soreness, it may be due to lactic acid build-up (lactic acid is a product of muscle metabolism) and/or micro-damage to the muscular fibers. The exact process of building muscle mass isn’t currently known, but the hypothesis is that it is a combination of mechanical tension, metabolic fatigue, and muscular damage.


Generally speaking, as long as demand is properly applied and increased incrementally, the amount of soreness should decrease as the endurance of the muscle increases. One reason some people have significant pain every time they workout out may be that they are increasing the demand on their body too aggressively. (Read more about avoiding injury with proper recovery here)


It is also important to note that the presence of muscle soreness doesn't necessarily mean you are working toward achieving the goal you have set for yourself. Having a knowledgable personal trainer, like one with a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) designation can help you find the best way to help you achieve your goals.


What is “Bad” Pain?


Pain that is recurrent, and in a specific place, is often times a sign of potential damage that needs to be addressed. If someone is having knee, shoulder, back pain or neck pain every time they do an exercise, then that should be brought up to their Primary Musculoskeletal Provider, like a rehab and movement-based chiropractor. Often times, that area may be having extra stress put on it. There may be an injury, movement, or stability/mobility issue that needs to be addressed.


Increasing activity levels too quickly, not warming up or cooling down properly, not giving yourself proper recovery time, and a decrease in mobility along the movement chain can contribute to the risk of injury.


Knowing when the pain is “good” pain or “bad” pain is an important part of being active and healthy. Teaming up with a movement and rehab-based chiropractor can be a great way to stay in front of “bad” pain and keeping it from becoming a long-term problem.


Three Tips to know When That Pain is a “Problem”


  • It regularly shows up when doing a particular exercise or activity

  • It is getting in the way of being able to do a particular exercise or movement properly

  • It isn't getting better, or its getting worse as time goes on


If you have pain that meets one or all these criteria, contact me at 510-671-1716 or go online to schedule an exam today. I help you be more patient, present, and passionate in what you want to do.

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