Listen to Your Body: Understanding Soreness

Pain is just part of being any athlete. Regardless of your sport or your workout style, you have doubtlessly dealt with a huge variety of aches and pains at some point in your career, likely on several occasions. But another aspect of athleticism is the ability to push through pain and discomfort, sometimes to the point of being counterproductive. It’s important, than, for everyone from casual exercisers to professional athletes to understand the different signals their body might send them. What can you safely push through? What pains should take you out of the race? When should you see a doctor?


Plain Ol’ DOMS

Even if you don’t know it by name, you’re familiar with DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Although the exact cause of DOMS isn’t fully understood, the prevailing view is that the soreness is a result of your body’s efforts to repair microscopic damage that your muscles suffer during exercise. You are especially susceptible to DOMS if you’re doing a workout that’s new to you. DOMS is also more common in weight training, specifically with activities that feature eccentric contractions like the lowering phase of a bicep curl.

The symptoms of DOMS, as opposed to other forms of soreness, are tenderness, stiffness and swelling in the affected area. Generally, this doesn’t require a visit to the doctor. You should, however, see your doctor if these symptoms become debilitating or if your urine becomes dark.

Whether or not to continue working out while dealing with DOMS is largely up to you. Sometimes DOMS may cause a loss of strength in the affected area which would limit your ability to exercise anyway. However, if it becomes too difficult or painful for you to continue, you should discontinue the activity for a few days.


Acute Muscle and Joint Pains

While DOMS, as the name suggests, hits 24 to 72 hours after the actual exercise, acute muscle pains start up during your workout. Runners may be familiar with this sudden pain in their calves, especially when they were first starting out. These pains can have any number of causes and you should immediately stop the activity if you feel a sharp pain in your muscles. If the pain persists, see a doctor.

Joint pain may start up during or after the activity and usually involves swelling and stiffness. This can occur in virtually any joint involved with your sport but knees and elbows are the most common problem areas. While in many causes this is just an issue of irritation from repeated use, these joint pains could be a symptom of something more serious. You should be especially cautious if the pain is debilitating since this sort of injury could require medical intervention.

How have you dealt with the aches and pains of exercising? Please share your hints in the comments!




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About jonathan.thompson

Jonathan Thompson is a Certified Personal Trainer and Running Coach with the American Council on Exercise, specializing in nutrition. In addition to his real-world experience working with clients, his articles and blogs on fitness advice have been published on many websites and magazines.