0

How to Tell if You’re Actually Hurt—Or Just Sore—from Working Out

Shutterstock

Even the smartest chick in the weight room can be a bit of a dumbbell when decoding workout aches. For starters, what may seem like a harmless twinge could actually be a major injury, says Aurelia Nattiv, M.D., a professor of sports medicine and nonoperative orthopaedics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Plus, women have a higher pain threshold than men, says Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City: “They’re more likely to push through aches, which can lead to bigger ones.” Don’t be a hero, lady! Get comfy with our guide so you’re ready to spot (and treat) that next “yee-ouch”—and get right back to being your badass self.

RELATED: What Your Exercise Cramps Are Trying to Tell You About Your Body

 YOU’RE HURT 
Some injuries are Captain Obvious: You fly off your bike and hear a snap when you theatrically use your arm to break your fall. (ER doc: Enter stage left.) But what about when you roll your ankle during a pickup soccer game or your shins burn on your daily run? Yeah, let’s talk. Odds are, you’re dealing with a minor acute injury or an overuse injury. The latter is common in activities involving repetitive motion; research shows up to 70 percent of runners are dealt one each year.

How to Get Better
During the first 48 hours, ice the suspected injury a few times a day to reduce swelling, says Metzl. Or wrap it with an elastic compression bandage and elevate it when you can. The pain should resolve after a few days. Until then, stick to stuff unlikely to make things worse—like pedaling a stationary bike, which can help improve circulation and aid in recovery, says Metzl.

How to Get Back in the Game
Feeling good after a few days of normal activity? Cool—now it’s time to ease back into things. Start with 25 to 50 percent of your usual volume, and increase by about 10 percent each week. While some initial discomfort is okay, check with a doc if you experience any pain, says Nattiv. You may have an injury that, without care, could snowball. Case in point: Trying to push through shin splints can cause a stress fracture, which can set you back at least four to six weeks. Trust us, crutches and a cast aren’t summer’s hottest accessories.

RELATED: 4 Moves to Decrease Your Risk of Injury

 YOU’RE SORE 
You’re taking five minutes to crawl out of bed and waddling when you walk down the stairs. You expected to be a bit beat up after yesterday’s boot camp, but damn, Gina! You’re likely looking at what fitness folks call delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short), and it stems from tearing the very muscle fibers needed to shape those killer glutes, says exercise physiologist Jacque Crockford. It can strike anytime you ramp up the frequency, duration, or intensity of your workouts.

How to Get Better
DOMS signature symptoms—extreme or atypical soreness, joint stiffness, and tenderness—hit 12 to 24 hours post-sweat sesh and may worsen for up to three days before they drop off. Help yourself during that window by staying hydrated and not skimping on sleep. Seek medical attention if the pain lasts longer than five days—it could be a muscle or tendon tear.

How to Get Back in the Game
No need to sit on the sidelines, but watch your form closely during workouts. “When you’re aching, you might adjust how you move to lessen discomfort, but this forces muscles and joints to work in ways they’re not used to, putting extra stress on them,” says Crockford. Another truth bomb: Be careful not to overstretch—e.g., trying to touch your nose to your knees even though your hamstrings feel like they may pop. That can damage muscle fibers and cause an injury, she says.

RELATED: Why ‘No Pain, No Gain’ Is a Bad Idea

For more ways you can tell your body just needs to recover, pick up the July/August issue of Women’s Health, on newsstands now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *