Everyone can agree that exercise and staying fit are good and healthy things to do. The well-documented benefits include cardiovascular health, endorphin releases to help with stress and musculoskeletal strengthening and flexibility, to name just a few. So are there ever situations when exercise can do more harm than good? The answer is yes. What are the typical signs your body can give to indicate this situation, and what may you need to do to get yourself back on track?
First, it is important to distinguish between normal working-out muscle pain and other types of pain. A normal muscle pain is called “delayed onset muscle sorenes”s (DOMS) and it is that “feel good” soreness that happens within 24 to 48 hours of working out or doing a new activity. Your muscles may feel stiff and sore, but there is a normal and expected quality to the discomfort. The more often the same exercise is performed, the less sore the muscles get.
Under normal circumstances, your body may get tired, especially if you have increased your training pace. But if your body starts to feel fragile or weakened, you may be overtaxing yourself. Another indicator occurs when pain increases in an area and causes you to start losing more and more flexibility or range of motion. Even after a surgical procedure like a total knee replacement or shoulder surgery, exercise may hurt initially, but you should experience a trend toward less pain and more range of motion as you continue to exercise.
If you are training in either running, bicycling or weight lifting, and you have a nagging injury that becomes more and more aggravated every time you train, your body is saying to stop and re-evaluate. In these situations, the injury typically requires longer periods to recover every time you train until finally it doesn’t go away at all. Take, for example, a chronic knee pain that usually resolves after resting it for 3 days before you run again. If over time it takes 4 and 5 days of rest to recover, your body is saying something is wrong.
Another indication of a growing problem is when multiple areas start to break down. What may start as hip bursitis can cause compensations that may involve the low back or knee muscles. As you continue to exercise, this “spreading” of orthopedic problems is your body’s way of saying, Help.
If you are just starting an exercise program you shouldn’t experience an overall increase in pain as exercise continues. If the feeling of “hurting all over” gets worse over several weeks, either something is wrong with your technique or your body is trying to tell you something about yourself.
One of the things that can contribute to the development or perpetuation of these injuries is structural asymmetries, which don’t correct themselves. For example, if you look in a mirror, do you see that one shoulder is much higher or positioned forward of the other? When you stand with your arms down by your sides, does one hand face in toward your leg and the other face back behind you? Look down at your feet. Do you stand with one leg more forward or more turned out than the other?
If these imbalances have become more prominent as you work out, your body is giving you the sign to get things checked out. A physical therapist trained in a whole body biomechanical approach can evaluate these signs and try to get to the root of the problem and correct these imbalances.
Remember, exercise should build you up, not break you down.