No Pain, No Gain. That used to be the mantra of many. It actually still may be. The thought process worked like this: If you were in pain, you surely had to be making progress and gains. Right? As long as there was progress and results, a little pain was worth it. Who cares that you can barely walk or lift your arm above your head without pain. You look great! Speaking of which, Pain & Gain with Mark Wahlberg and The Rock was an awesome movie. You should finish reading this, then go check it out.
Seriously though, pain is a bad thing. It’s a signal telling your body to stop, that something is wrong. Think of it like an emergency brake. Working through it isn’t in your long term interests or even short term for that matter. It would be like driving your car around with the emergency brake on. We’ve all done that before. We forget to take the emergency brake off, however our body doesn’t forget. It’ll just keep reproducing that pain signal till 1 of 2 things happen. Either an injury happens, or you just compensates for the movement to reduce the pain, which causes dysfunction and then we are right back to injury again.
How do we stay out of the pain cycle?
First, we need to recognize whether we’re actually feeling pain, or if we’re just in a little bit of discomfort. There’s a big difference. You can make it through discomfort. It’s harder to work through pain and it can be detrimental to your overall well-being.
Second, we need to adjust our exercise selection so that we eliminate the chance of this happening again.
SMR/Foam Rolling– A great way to make sure you eliminate major pain is by taking care of the minor aches and pains through foam rolling and other SMR techniques like lacrosse ball or PKnott work. What this does is increase blood flow and relieve tension in the muscles along with increasing range of motion and oxygen to the area. SMR and foam rolling are like flossing and brush your teeth. They are maintenance work for your muscles, keeping them healthy and functional.
Massage– If SMR and foam rolling are the flossing and brushing of teeth for your muscles, then massage is like going to the dentist. A great massage therapist can help get to spots that tools cannot, and can provide much needed relief (thankfully we have on staff at AMP). An LMT can be great for treating specific areas and get you back to working order.
Mobility- Mobility is much different from just stretching in that you are maintaining stability while increasing mobility. Because without stability, we’d all just collapse into a pile of mush. Muscley mush.
Other Recovery Strategies– Rest. Sleep. Nutrition. Taking days off from training so your muscles have the ability to repair. Speaking of repair, sleep is when your body makes all its repairs and resets you for the next day. If your body isn’t regrouping due to lack of sleep, it will surely break down at some point. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the line your body will meet its breaking point. So get your sleep.
Nutrition is equally important as if you’re not fueling your body, it won’t optimally recover.
You can additionally treat with ice as it will temporarily provide relief for pain. However, without breaking down your movements and seeing how or why your body is in pain, you will stay in the same cycle of pain.
I’m only including this because I know the question is going to be asked. “Can I stretch?” The answer is “It depends.”
Sometimes when we feel pain, we have the urge to stretch. Stretching “feels good” and it’s probably what you’ve always done. Stretching found its way into the fitness industry years ago when no one was stretching. It became a cure all for those who weren’t doing any other form of recovery. However now we know better and learned much more about the body. Something is better than nothing right? No, in many scenarios, stretching is going to be counterproductive. It can bring more instability to an area that doesn’t need it. Most times, a tight muscle is the only thing holding you together, preventing something more serious. If you keep tugging on that link, that tight muscle through stretching, eventually a link down the chain is going to snap. So stretching is going to be a “sometimes” strategy for pain. It should only be used when necessary.
Pain is your bodies’ emergency brake. It’s telling you to stop whatever it is your doing. There is a distinct difference between pain and discomfort. Some exercises are not going to be comfortable or hard. That’s a good thing. Those will teach you to grow, to excel, to be better. Pain, either acute or chronic, is a cry for help. Employ these strategies to break through that pain cycle.
Now seriously, go watch that movie.