A common phrase you hear plastered around the fitness community a lot is “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” This in itself is a loaded statement with tons to unpack. The concept of continually working through pain is a dangerous narrative to push onto individuals in the pursuit of a fitness goal. We know all too well that through tough, intense – and at times limit-pushing training- DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) are inevitable. But there is a key difference between the pain from DOMS and true injury.
So How Do You Know The Difference Between Sore And Injured?
The answer itself lies in the definition of both words:
Sore: “(of a part of one’s body) painful or aching.”
Injured: “harmed, damaged, or impaired.”
A key aspect to take into consideration when assessing soreness vs injury is the time period you experience the feeling for. Soreness derived from physical activity has a much shorter duration typically lasting anywhere from one to three days. Whereas pain or injury may come on quick and typically last longer than three days, making day-to-day activities tough if not undoable.
“When soreness is accompanied by sharp pains or aches that continue to linger on after a few days, it may be cause for concern and time to see a physician, when you’re feeling painful sensations localized in your joints and muscles, you may have an injury.” – Rebound physical therapist Mike Baer.
Training Through An Injury.
Whilst chasing a fitness goal, whether that be getting ready for a competition/run/game, chasing numbers in your lifting, or even just trying to live a more healthy active lifestyle, it is easy to convince yourself pushing through pain is the correct course of action to achieve said goal. This, however, can actually be the polar opposite solution to achieving your goals and in some cases detrimental to your fitness journey long term. Training through pain often worsens the initial injury, pushing back recovery time and sometimes prevents you from ever getting back to “100%”.
Managing/Returning From Injury.
A common way you see people managing pain or discount (dependant on the severity) with injuries is Heat/Ice Treatment and that is because it is simple yet effective.
Ice – “Ice should be applied to an acute or new injury, like a muscle or joint sprain, Ice helps constrict blood vessels to reduce swelling and pain.”
Heat – “Heat is typically used for chronic pain or conditions, old injuries and stiffness, heat therapy is beneficial for stiff joints and muscle pain because it allows blood vessels to relax and increases circulation. Heat can be very soothing for tight muscles and painful joints.”
Image by Hackensack Meridian Health via [website hyperlinked].
As effective as Heat/Cold Therapy is, there are certain injuries that this just won’t cut the mustard for and further actions need to be taken.
So, what else can we try?
Physiotherapy and Rehab
Attending a physio is the smartest course of action when struggling with an injury. Many gyms have physios on-site but for those who don’t get on the list to see an NHS physio, or, if you have the funds – go private. Even though it can be upwards of around £50 for an appointment it can really be worth it to get seen quickly and get on the road to recovery, fast. A physio will help you identify the injury more accurately, offer you methods to ease the pain/discomfort, and most importantly prescribe you rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the area effect and surrounding muscle/joints/ligaments.
This rehab is crucial to correctly return from an injury, it is common to be chomping at the bit to return to training with a bang post-injury, but partaking in strenuous physical activity too early without rehabbing an injury often ends in reinjuring or worsening the existing injury, putting you right back to the start of the healing process.
Even if you have not attended a physio rehabbing is still vital. A quick google search for rehab exercises specific to your injured area will provide you with a surplus of movements you can perform at home or in the gym to help you bounce back.
Preventing and Managing Muscle Soreness
For all those times you are not injured and simply sore for an intense week of training here is a quick list of methods to prevent/manage your DOMS:
Warm-Up – “Studies show that warming up your muscles before exercise may be better than stretching them. It wakes up your muscles by increasing blood flow to them. To warm-up, do light versions of certain exercises. These include slow jogging or biking, jumping rope, or lifting light weights.”
Cool Down – After training your muscles are warm and more flexible. Stretching helps move blood away from the muscles and back to the heart aiding recovery.
Hydration – Water helps control your body temperature, loosen your joints, and transport nutrients to create energy. Not being sufficiently hydrated you can run the risk of experiencing muscle cramps, fatigue, and dizziness.
Ice Bath – Ice bath similar to ice therapy decreases inflammation, and increases circulation, improved circulation rushes blood to the muscles flushing out waste products such as lactic acid, which causes muscle soreness.
Massage Gun – You may have seen people using massage guns in the gym – these are a great tool for promoting blood flow to the area targeted to help reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. If your gym doesn’t have one on-site these can be a little pricey so you might want to try one out before you invest.
The main takeaway from this blog is that your fitness journey is a long one, nothing is worth pushing through injuries to potentially cut your journey short.
Invest in yourself and your own well being even if that does mean missing an event or two. The longevity of your health should always take priority! If you are new to training and struggling to identify the difference between being sore or injured . . . ask a coach! They are well trained to differentiate and can scale/tailor training to fit your circumstance.
Stay healthy, enjoy your training, and love life!