Post-Workout Aches and Pains? When To Rest And When To Call The Doctor
for Stephen Soloway Published On: 08.06.12 4.49 pm
You hop off the treadmill and feel a not-so-normal ache in your knee or wake up the day after a killer kickboxing class and struggle to walk down the stairs. We've all had the post-workout aches and pains; many of us write them off as a sign that we had a great workout. But what if it is more than that? How do you know if your post-workout pain is a sign of a larger problem what could lead to joint surgery later in life?
This is becoming a real question for a lot of active individuals. In fact, according to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these debilitating problems are becoming more common by the year. From 1996-2006, hospital visits for total hip replacements increased by one-third, and knee replacements by 70 percent. A recent study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) projects the number of hip and knee replacement procedures will jump by 673 percent – to 3.48 million – by 2030.
So how do you know if it's a normal ache or early sign or symptom of joint issues? As a rheumatologist and expert in sports medicine, Dr. Stephen Soloway offers tips on how to determine if your post-exercise pain is normal, and when it's not, when to seek medical attention and how to maintain an active lifestyle even if you are developing joint issues.
How do you determine if your exercise pain is normal?
If you exercise regularly, some pain and soreness is expected following a workout. Usually, it is a sign that you worked hard.
Minor pain is normal if it lasts for approximately 30 seconds post-workout. This is pain that you are able to push through and continue working out, if you wanted to.
If the pain continues five minutes or so post-workout, then that is a red flag of a possible problem. Joint pain is generally caused from the workout itself, but in some cases an underlying medical problem could make joint pain more prevalent.
When should you seek medical attention?
If pain is so severe, that you cannot continue exercise, then that is a clear sign that you should stop. A sharp or stabbing sensation should signal a trip to the doctor. Pain in joints should feel differently than normal muscle pain after physical activity. Joint pain can be caused by injury affecting any of the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding the joint. Injury can also affect the ligaments, cartilage, and bones within the joint.
Severe pain may be a sign of a possible torn muscle or ligament, so you should stop exercising if you feel this way.
Other symptoms for which you should seek immediate medical attention are sudden swelling or inability to use the joint at all.
If the pain lasts longer than a day or so, it is wise to seek medical attention to prevent any further stress on the joint.
What exercises are good for people with joint pain?
People that experience joint pain should always warm up before exercising. Going into an exercise activity with cold muscles can only cause pain and possibly injury.
Movement itself can warm up muscles, just be sure take it slow.
The key for exercising with these joint issues is building strong muscle around the joint to help protect them, and not put stress on the joint itself.
For example, if you have knee pain, try doing straight leg raises instead of bent ones. This way, the knee is locked and in a straight position, so it won’t negatively affect the joint itself.
How can you prevent pain from exercise?
Stretching is one of the best ways to prevent soreness and pain after exercise. Many people think that light exercise is enough to warm up and loosen the muscles, but in fact stretching is best.
Also, try taking an over the counter anti-inflammatory drug after exercise, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). If this is something you are already in the habit of doing, then take the medication prior to exercising.
Post-workout, light stretching can help relax muscles and improve flexibility. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration; otherwise you may experience muscle spasms and joint discomfort.
Wearing comfortable and supportive footwear is also a good way to reduce stress on your joints.
Can a lack of working out cause further joint problems?
The conventional wisdom used to be that exercising would increase joint problems. Years of research findings now show that the less you move your joints, the weaker and more painful they become. You then use them less, eventually causing a decline in their ability to function.
Being physically inactive not only can worsen your joint problems, it also increases your risk for developing type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Physical activity lessens chronic joint symptoms and improves overall quality-of-life. It provides those benefits without increasing healthy adults' risk of developing osteoarthritis in the hips or knees or musculoskeletal pain.
Stephen Soloway, M.D., FACP, FACR, CCD Arthritis & Rheumatology Assoc. of S. Jersey, P.C.