What to Do If You Experience Pain During Your Workout


It is no secret that exercise comes with a long list of health benefits.

Regular exercise improves your cardiovascular health, boosts your mood, helps maintain a healthy weight, and reduces the risk of many chronic diseases.

Yet, pain and discomfort are not unheard of in the exercise realm.

Exercise involves slight discomfort. Your muscles will get sore. They will become fatigued.

Many become used to these slight pains and aches. We push through it.

But, when is pushing through it doing more harm than good? When is your body telling you to take a break? Where do you draw the line?

Types of Pain

Pain is a very generalized term. It refers to physical discomfort. Essentially, this means that there is good pain and there is bad pain.

Good pain is that burn in your muscles you feel during those last couple of reps. It is that sore feeling in your legs the next day after doing a particularly intense leg session.

Bad pain is being unable to lift your arm because of a sharp, stabbing sensation. Bad pain is having a sore back after a core workout. Bad pain may involve chest pain. It feels different from good pain. And often indicates that you should stop your workout and possibly seek medical attention.

Bad pain is your body’s way of letting you know when something is wrong. Listening to your body during these incidences can prevent injury and long-term pain issues.

So, what are the signs of bad pain?

1. Sharp pain

A sharp, stabbing, or shooting pain could indicate an injury. Or that your body is not made to move this way and it wants you to stop. A sharp pain could indicate a tendon impingement or a ligament or muscle strain. Stop the exercise you are doing. Sometimes adjusting your form may help. If not, take a break and move onto the next.

2. Increase in pain during your workout

If you begin your workout with soreness or pain, monitor it throughout your session. Give it a rating between 0 and 10 at the beginning. 10 is the worst pain you have ever experienced, and 0 is no pain. If this baseline number increases, stop your workout. An increase in pain is never a good sign. You are likely doing more harm than good. If it continues to increase, consult with your local healthcare practitioner.

3. A ‘pop’ occurs alongside the onset of pain

A popping sensation or sound followed by pain may mean you have injured a ligament or dislocated a joint. Opt for rest and ice the affected area.

4. Sudden tightness

A suddenly tight muscle could lead to a muscle or tissue tear. Take a break from the exercise. Try gently stretching the muscle. For example, many people experience kinks in their neck. Slowly move the head. If pain occurs, ease off. Try simply stretching the muscle. Check your form and posture. Make sure to adjust where necessary. If the tightness does not ease off, again, it may be best to get it checked out.

5. Noticeable swelling occurs

If swelling occurs alongside pain, halt your exercise session. Swelling is your body’s immune response to injury. Take a break and ice the affected area.

So, What Should You Do When Bad Pain Happens?

Take a break. Rest is at the top of the list. Give it time. Sometimes that is all your body needs. Try resting for at least 2 days before returning to the exercise.

Ice the affected area. Make sure to place a towel in between the ice and your skin to prevent skin damage. Ice for 10-15 minutes at a time, with at least 15 minutes in between applications.

Elevate and compress the affected area. This can prevent future swelling and bruising, which could impact pain levels and range of motion. Use a tensor bandage to compress the area and pillows to elevate the limb.

Check your form. Make sure you are doing an exercise properly. Keep your back straight. Watch a pro do it. If you workout at the gym, ask a gym employee. Or watch a how-to video on YouTube. The internet is home to a vast amount of information. Use it to your advantage.

Make an appointment with your local healthcare professional. If the pain continues and doesn’t get better within a few days, get it checked out before it gets worse. Your doctor or physical therapist can provide proper advice specific to your injury.

How Can You Prevent Bad Pain and Injury?

Complete a Proper Warm-up and Cooldown

Dynamic stretches can help your body prepare for your exercise session. They involve active movements using the joint’s full range of motion. Warming up via dynamic stretches gets the blood flowing to the parts of the body that need it. It wakes up your joints and muscles.

On the other hand, the cooldown can help lengthen the muscles after repeated contractions and shortening. Tight muscles can increase your risk of injury during your workout. Stretching out the muscles worked can counteract the stress the muscles were placed under through exercise.

Drink Lots of Water

Our bodies and cells are made of water. We need it to function. During exercise, we lose water. Our bodies sweat as they try to regulate body temperature. Water needs to be replaced throughout your workout and after your workout. Bring a water bottle with you. Constantly refill it. Dehydration can cause issues such as muscle cramps and more.

In combination with rehydrating, make sure to replace electrolytes. Mix your water with a sports drink. Or eat high-potassium and high-sodium foods before and after your session. A healthy and balanced diet can make a huge difference in how you feel and your body’s ability to recover and cope with stress.

Check Your Form

You should constantly be checking your form. Proper form means you are working the correct muscles and loading the correct joints. As aforementioned, if you aren’t sure what proper form is, do your research or ask. Guessing could cause injury, and potentially, set back your fitness goals.

Gradually Increase Intensity, Duration, and Amount

Overuse injuries are some of the most common causes of pain and injury in exercise. We go in headfirst. A common problem is doing too much, too soon. Ease into exercise, especially if you are new to it. Gradually increase the weight every few weeks. Increase your time every few weeks. Make sure not to increase all at the same time.

Mixing up your workout can also prevent overloading. Avoid doing a leg day back-to-back. Do a leg day, then an arm day, a cardio day, or take a rest day. Do different activities. You’ll reach your optimal fitness level faster, stronger, and better this way.

Take Rest Days

Rest days are necessary. Many avid gym-goers skip rest days, and unfortunately, it can do more harm than good. Your muscles need time to recover. When you work the muscles, small tears occur. When these tears are repaired, your muscles become stronger as the body adapts. However, time is needed for the body to repair these tears. Without rest days, you may burn out and cause injury, increasing your chances of developing chronic pain problems.

Don’t feel guilty about the rest day. Plan for it. Your body needs it.

Wear Appropriate Workout Gear

Wear clothes you can move in. Choose fitness shirts and shorts that wick away sweat.

Wear supportive shoes. Many injuries and pain incidences occur due to improper footwear. If you are doing weightlifting activities, buy the appropriate shoes. If you are running, buy footwear that is suitable for the type of running you want to participate in. Make sure your arches and feet are supported. Bad footwear can not only make your feet hurt but throw off other body biomechanics creating other issues.

Listen to Your Body

Know what bad pain is. Reading this article is your step 1. Identify the type of pain you are experiencing and act accordingly. The “no pain, no gain” mantra does not apply to certain types of pain. Know yourself and your limits.

If you have joint issues or other muscular problems, be aware of them when working out. Err on the side of caution. It is way better than enduring months of injury rehabilitation and recovery.

Pushing through pain in your workout is not always a good thing.

Know when your body is telling you something is wrong. Know what to do when bad pain occurs. Educate yourself. Take care of your body - you only get the one!

Prevent injury and pain before it happens. Exercise safe for efficient and effective results