If you regularly exercise or play a sport, you've probably overdone it and been sidelined with an injury at least once. As much as you may try to avoid getting hurt, it can happen to anyone. I have seen quite a few people who begin an exercise program going from a more sedentary lifestyle then jumping into six days a week, full-throttle, workouts. Is this safe? Not really.
It's important to give your body the chance to properly heal. With a little planning, common sense, and your doctor's ok, it's possible, and healthier, to keep up with an exercise routine while recovering. Whether it's from muscle soreness or injury it's important to keep the rest of your body moving while avoiding the sore area.
While it's, of course, important to listen to your body, it's possible that you may think you have an injury when you're really just sore. Which may affect what's safe to do in terms of exercise. Some pain after exercise is to be expected, especially when you're first getting started. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) comes on a day or two after a workout. When DOMS sets in, you might be worried you have an injury. But this soreness is usually just your body's response to a new kind of exercise, a specially hard workout, or working out when you're not warmed up enough.
DOMS can usually be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, rest, and something to soothe your muscles, like a hot bath. Exercise usually need not be limited for safety reasons. You may want to keep active, though it may be uncomfortable. However, rest may be just what you need to get the most out of your next workout.
DOMS can also be a sign you're headed for something more serious than post-workout aches. If the pain is new, continues despite treatment and/or rest, or gets worse, you could be dealing with an injury.
This is IMPORTANT, DOMS does not equal better or quicker muscle-building or strength-building results. In fact, getting too sore after a workout can be counterproductive to those goals, since you may find yourself skipping a few workouts due to the discomfort. There are varying degrees of pain depending on how much damage has been done (and other factors like genetics and how hydrated you are), but regularly experiencing an extreme level of soreness isn't something you should make a habit of.
You’re also more likely to experience DOMS if you push your body to movement patterns that it’s not accustomed to, engage smaller muscles that your workouts don’t typically touch, or stress the muscles way more than they’re accustomed to or prepared for. That might mean you've done too much in an Online Cardio and Muscle class with tons of lateral lunges, too many biceps curls, or just way more volume (more sets and reps) than you’re used to. Basically, extreme soreness can happen anytime you do something your muscles aren't familiar with, even if that's just going extra hard in a Pilates class.
Ways To Ease DOMS
Unfortunately, if you're already in the throes of monumental soreness, the only surefire remedy is time. Yeah, that sucks. But if you're really sore and you decide you're not going to get off the couch, that's the worst thing you can do. Because activity increases circulation, improving blood flow throughout the body. This brings nutrients, hormones, and oxygen that are necessary to repair and rebuild muscles.
Now please don't misunderstand, this doesn't mean you should go back to your regularly scheduled workout programming. I'm talking about gentle activity, like going for a walk or hopping onto a bike.
There is also research that shows a direct correlation between dehydration and increased muscle soreness and DOMS. While more research needs to be done, researchers and practitioners have suggested that if dehydration increases soreness, then increased levels of hydration can minimize it. Makes sense. Drinking lots of water can't hurt, at least!
Adding some light stretching is good as well. The keyword is light! Stretching can be a great way to release tightness and increase your range of motion when you're sore—which can make you feel better, even though it’s not actually healing the tears in your muscles or making them repair any faster.
When you do have a true injury, what is advisable will entirely depend on your case. Before continuing or starting a workout plan, see your doctor make sure your injury is promptly diagnosed and treated. Then you can work with your provider to find a routine that promotes healing but doesn't risk making the injury worse. Know, however, that some injuries may call for you to take a break from activity altogether.
Listen to Your Doctor
Your doctor's advice about exercising with an injury will depend on the location, nature, severity of the injury, as well as your overall health.
Your doctor may recommend that you swap the exercises you currently do for new ones. Or continue with your routine in a modified way (e.g., use lighter weights). Or work in more rest days. You may even stop certain types of activities entirely until your condition improves.
In addition to making recommendations about activities, he or she may refer you to a physical therapist who can suggest exercises to both heal your injury and help strengthen the rest of your body. Whatever your doctor or physical therapist recommends, it's advisable to heed the advice. Aim to do the exercises they give you for as long as they recommend.
If you have a knee or lower-body injury, for example, you may be advised to avoid lower body exercises while you heal. Try concentrating on Upper body exercises in the meantime and vice versa. Again, take cues from your doctor and/or physical therapist as to what is best for your situation.
Don't Work Through the Pain
Resist the temptation to jump back into your normal routine, even if you're feeling better. The absence of pain does not mean healing. Pain will usually subside around 20% healing. Stop if you feel pain in the injured part of your body or somewhere new—even if it happens when you're doing the exercises your doctor or physical therapist recommended.
If the pain is getting worse or you develop new pain, talk to your doctor or physical therapist. If pain continues or starts while you're on a modified workout, you may be able to address it by simply moving on to a different exercise. However, in some cases, it may be best to simply stop—especially if the injury is making it difficult to use proper form.
Falling out of the correct form does not only just make the exercise less effective, but it also puts you at risk for further injury.
Give Yourself Time to Recover
Skipping a workout to let your body heal from an injury can be frustrating, but pressing on can prolong a full recovery and worsen your injury. If your healthcare provider recommends rest, take this seriously. Rest when your body tells you it needs to.
Prevent Future Injuries
Taking some time to assess your routine and identify why the injury occurred will help you prevent future injuries. Ask yourself these questions and make any modifications you feel are necessary. A Personal Trainer can help with making these calls;
Did you push yourself too hard? Too soon?
Were you moving in poor form?
Were you warmed up enough?
Are you routinely stretching?
Are you giving yourself enough rest time in between workouts?
Are you balancing your workouts? Posterior or Anterior chain? Upper or Lower body? Primary or Secondary muscles? Compound or Accessory lifts?
The main idea is to forget the old saying "no pain, no gain." Of course, DOMS can happen. In order to build strength and stamina, you will need to push your body. The key is to push slowly and gradually. You can expect sore muscles after your workout. But you should never feel pain when exercising. If you feel pain, stop right away.
If you would like more information on this topic or would help with your exercise programming we can set up a free no-obligation consultation and let's chat.
Thanks for reading,