No Pain, No Gain?

Exercise is the backbone of human health, athletic performance, and overall well-being. Whether resistance training or cardio, exercise strengthens the body. Muscles break down and rebuild during exercise due to repetitive stress and intensity. This process can lead to soreness and pain, which is natural and even expected. However, what is sometimes perceived as the progress of exercise may actually be an underlying injury. Identifying the symptoms of injury versus muscular pain and soreness can be vital in avoiding long-term injury. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair significant damage.

The undeniable benefits of exercise

Regular exercise plays a vital role in health and has countless benefits. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve strength and flexibility and manage weight. Specific exercises are essential to athletic performance and improving cardiovascular health. For instance, athletes and everyday weekend warriors frequently use running, swimming, or cycling for improved strength. Incorporating exercise into one’s daily routine slows or prevents certain chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The endorphins released by exercise are also essential for mental health, sleep quality, memory, and brain function. The popularity of exercise means there is no limit to the variety and versatility of movement so that people of all ages and fitness levels can participate.

Is it exercise discomfort or a sign of injury?

While exercise has many benefits, overtraining, poor recovery, or certain degenerative conditions can lead to injury. These injuries often occur when individuals push the boundaries of ability, risking joint or muscular damage. Some people, like athletes, encounter falls or collisions that create an underlying injury. At this point or any stage, there must be a differentiation between pain due to injury and regular discomfort during exercise. The pain from overexerting oneself is often due to fatigue and can subside when the body adjusts to the exercise. Persistent pain, however, is often a sign of an underlying injury.

What are the signals of injury?

The body is quite intuitive and can signal when a more severe condition requires medical attention, such as surgery. A sharp, dull pain when performing an exercise can indicate an underlying joint issue. For instance, if the shoulder has a dull, quite painful ache during a shoulder press, there may be an underlying issue. Regular discomfort during this exercise can be described as stretching the muscle past normal limits. After exercising, most people experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a general sore aching feeling that subsides in 24-72 hours. A potential injury can be sharp and intense, lasting several days or even weeks. The area may feel painful to the touch and appear swollen and inflamed. Over time, there is a reduced range of motion (ROM) and weakness, leading to reduced performance.

When to seek medical advice

Some people may exercise or go through athletic competition with chronic pain, signaling an underlying injury. Common examples include muscle strains, rotator cuff tears, microfractures, and degenerative joints. If the pain does not improve with rest and the soreness increases in intensity, seek medical advice. Cracking or popping sounds, reduced range of motion, and poor athletic performance are also signs of seeking treatment. Pay attention to how the joint performed in the recent past compared to now. These are all injury signals and not the soreness or discomfort common with exercise.

It may be time for surgery

A medical specialist or doctor can assess the pain and provide further information and advice. Doctors will perform physical and imaging tests to determine the underlying cause of these symptoms. If there is an issue, a treatment plan will be created based on the extent of the injury. Sprains and strains or minor ligament tears can benefit from non-surgical means. For instance, the doctor will recommend rest, bracing the joint, and physical therapy (PT) sessions. However, if these strategies fail to produce results or there is severe underlying damage, surgery is best.

The power of MIS

Thanks to minimally invasive surgery (MIS), receiving surgical treatment does not need to be a complicated process. Orthopedic surgeons now use arthroscopy, a device that uses incisions the size of buttonholes. The surgeon can then use small surgical tools to remove damaged tissue or repair damaged joints. With MIS, patients have smaller incisions, more minor scars, fewer complications, and faster recovery.

Pain is not always progress

The underlying injury is treatable with surgery and subsequent physical therapy (PT). Taking this bold step will reduce pain and significantly improve long-term function. What feels like progress and muscle growth may actually be a strain, tear, or more severe issue. The body is intuitive and will send messages to seek medical help. If rest and pain management fail to improve the problem, consider minimally invasive surgery as soon as possible.