Do you believe in the cliché No pain No gain? This probably depends on who you have heard this say or in what context. Pain means different things to different people. When I treat patients with spine or sports injuries in the clinic, I often ask what kind of pain they have. Yes – what kind of pain- because different kinds of pain mean different things. For example, soreness is vastly different from constant dull ache whereas dull aching pain is very different pain from sharp shooting pain. This helps me identify the nature and the source of pain. A majority of people know the type of pain they are experiencing but there are some who have trouble determining whether they have muscle soreness or pain. This is a critical thing to understand if you work out.
Traditionally No pain, no gain is an exercise motto that promises greater value rewards for the price of hard and even painful work. In relationship to fitness training, this phrase first originated in the early 1980s. Since then, people have adopted the idea that in order to gain any benefit from their fitness exercise program, it needs to hurt and perhaps even hurt badly. This is farthest from the truth. In fact, if you experience pain after your exercise routine and still continue to exercise in spite of the pain, you may be traumatizing your joints and muscles which may lead to further injury.
Frankly instead of “No pain No gain”, the saying should be “No soreness, No gain” or “no discomfort, No gain. But this doesn’t rhyme and that’s probably why the saying exists as it does. While soreness is a natural response to exercise, actual pain is a sign that something somewhere is wrong and needs to be addressed. Exercise releases endorphins, relieves stress, increases energy levels, aids sleep, and enhances the ability to enjoy recreational activities. A solid workout can leave you feeling great all day long after it’s over. It’s not supposed to feel soothing; exercise works because you place your body under stress and it strengthens itself to prepare for the duress of your next workout. While you’re doing it, it should feel uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be unbearable and it shouldn’t feel painful.
So if you believe that without pain your workouts are useless, you might continue to damage your joints and muscles leading to injuries. Pain is a sign that your body is giving you signals that some damage is either being done or already done. While working out you want to do reps till you fatigue but not to the point of pain. Working out should be uncomfortable; if the workout is too easy then you may not be getting the exercise benefits you desire. However, working past that point is dangerous- you may be damaging tissues! Aching, soreness and fatigue are normal signs of a good workout. In fact, if you don’t have soreness after a workout you may not have pushed enough. Sharp, stabbing, grinding pains are the bad kind of pains that you want to sit up and take notice.
Anyone who wants to seriously follow an exercise regimen should keep in mind that pain is not necessary for a successful workout. A good rule of thumb to follow is: if it hurts, don’t continue to exercise. I know of several injuries that originated from a great workout going overboard. Even slight pain or swelling of a joint is an indication that the joint needs rest. If the pain persists for greater than 48 hours then you should consult a doctor.
Exercise should be a fun activity that you enjoy doing, not one that leaves you in pain. It should challenge your muscles and joints to greater strength and flexibility and yet be comfortable enough so that there is no pain.
So the next time you work out, listen to your body. Enjoy the soreness but be alert and mindful of pain.