My daughter-in-law said something encouraging when I was groaning and creaking in and out of a recliner because of my workout soreness. She said, “The bad soreness will go away after a few weeks; after that you’ll only be lightly sore.” Nice to know.
You can expect muscle soreness when you work out. You can expect your ligaments to be stretched and a little unhappy. Those pains actually seem to get better during a workout and bother you more after prolonged periods of disuse, although scientists aren’t sure why. Contrary to what we all thought, it appears lactic acid only causes the burning sensation you sometimes get while exercising, but not the “delayed-onset muscles soreness.” At any rate, the burn means you’re about at the muscle’s limit, and the soreness is part of the process of rebuilding muscle. So you can blow that kind of pain off and count it as part of retraining your body.
But there’s also the pain you need to pay attention to and consider whether you need to scale back until you’ve gotten stronger, and work on form and intensity. And some pain means you need to take a day or so off to heal, to see your doctor or even go to the emergency room.
It’s easy to get caught up in the “more macho than thou” games or to be embarrassed to admit you’re hurt because you don’t want to be perceived as a weenie. Don’t. CrossFit is great because it can accommodate injury or lower abilities, so take advantage of that flexibility. And if you allow yourself to be really injured, you’ll be off your exercise routine longer than if you take care of yourself.
It’s not just the deconditioned or the overweight who can injure themselves. Gary, my husband/coach who is in great shape and rarely injures himself, somehow hurt his back a little just the other day. He’s icing it and staying away from things that cause it to hurt “the bad way,” but he’s continuing to work out using the exercises that don’t stress it and scaling back on the ones that do until he can do them.
My knee injury flare is another case of when stopping is a good thing. Right now, the tops of both knees ache a little, but it’s not a sharp pain and I feel better after walking around on them, so I’m still good to go. But a few days ago, my left knee screamed at me during the workout. I’ve injured myself enough times to have a pretty good idea of when I need to pay attention and when I don’t, but whenever you have a sudden, sharp pain, that’s generally a bad sign. I iced the knee that day and the next, took an unscheduled rest day, and my knee was up for the next workout.
Sharp or intense pain that is qualitatively different from what you feel some hours after you’ve finished working out is something to investigate. Joints are particularly susceptible to errors in the form, or the how, of any exercise. That includes the joints you don’t generally think of, like the places where your vertebrae meet (the bits that look like wings)(the facet joint) or the joint that is between your tailbone and your hipbone (the sacroiliac joint, commonly referred to as the SI joint).
I’ve injured both a facet joint and an SI joint. The first was when I was younger and lighter, and it still took me over six weeks to recover from, even with physical therapy and muscle relaxants. Twice. I remember the second time better than the first, because I knew exactly when I did it. I was lifting a pile of casebooks in the law library from the bottom shelf and didn’t have my back in the right position and I felt a weird twinge in my back. The next day I could hardly straighten my back. That’s the kind of thing you see the doctor for.
The SI joint took a while to figure out because I had weird symptoms. The primary place where it hurt was in my lower left abdominal area, so the docs went through all the possible GI and GYN items first. It’s more common to hurt in your lower back or thighs, but referred pain like mine isn’t unusual. After exhausting the other possibilities (and when I’d gotten to the point that 2 vicodine at a time didn’t do anything but take the edge off the pain), I went to a physical therapist who shoved a finger in the right spot and almost made me yell, it hurt so bad. One good maneuver, and the therapist had the damn thing back where it belonged and the pain lessened almost immediately.
What I found interesting about the experience was that Stephanie, the physical therapist, had also had an SI joint problem at one point; she was a competitive pole vaulter, so not a deconditioned person like me. It’s more a matter of moving the wrong way at the wrong time, which can, but doesn’t have to be, a result of exercise. She did it stepping off a curb.
If you get a sudden pain and then a muscle bunches up away from the original pain, you’ve probably torn a ligament, and you need to call your doctor or get to the ER. That one’s pretty hard to miss.
Bottom line: If it hurts right away and really bad, check it out with a doctor. If it pings, pops or twinges, check it out with a doctor. If it’s the worst pain you’ve ever had or if you suddenly can’t move a limb or joint, go to the ER. If it swells and bruises, ice it and see the doctor. If it’s just sore or achey, particularly if it gets better with movement, keep on going. If your muscle starts burning, push the envelope, but if you just can’t stand it any longer, you can give it a little break to get some oxygen, and then get back on with your workout.
If you do something dumb like me, and bop the back of your head on the hyperlite during a situp because you didn’t make sure it was clear, well, you probably do it a lot (I do) and know the difference between something you’ll shake off and something you can’t.
Of course, I’m not a doctor or any other kind of health care professional, so if you have any doubt, check it out with the folks who are trained to figure it out. I can only share what I’ve experienced, not diagnose you.
As far as the soreness goes, hang in there. You’ll keep discovering new muscles (even in your hands and feet) you didn’t know were there, but that means you are getting stronger.