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Am I injured or just sore from exercise?

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The weather is warming up and you’re feeling inspired to get more mobile. You might have been inspired by the thought of wearing swimmers on the beach or wearing those shorts and singlets.. However whether you’re a novice or seasoned exerciser you will still have times when you are so very sore from your exercise. How do you know whether it is just from the training or you have injured yourself?  This article will address some of the common injuries sustained during exercise and how you might differentiate these problems.




Joints are held together and supported by tough bands of connective tissue called ligaments. The entire joint is enclosed inside a membrane filled with lubricating synovial fluid, which helps to nourish the joint and provide extra cushioning against impact. A sprain is a joint injury that typically involves small tears (micro-trauma) of the ligaments and joint capsule. Common sites for sprains include the thumb, ankle and the intervertebral facet joints. Pain from joint sprains may be felt sharply and suddenly when moving the joint in a specific direction, whether you are performing the motion yourself, or someone else (or gravity) is moving the limb for you.

Muscles are anchored to joints with connective tissue called tendons. Injury to these tendons or the muscles themselves is called a strain. Common sites for strains include the calf, groin, hamstring and rotator cuff shoulder muscles. Treatment for both these conditions usually requires good old R.I.C.E protocols. That is Rest Ice Compression and Elevation



Pain from tendonitis or tendon strains is felt consistently upon using the muscle that the tendon attaches to, and gets worse the more the muscle/tendon unit is used. If someone else moves your limb through the same motion (using their muscles instead of yours), no pain will typically be triggered. An example of this might be injury to the shoulder rotator cuff muscles.

Pain from nerve injuries feels burning, electrical, numb, tingling, and/or shock-like, and if severe may be accompanied by weakness and/or loss of motor or sensory function in a limb or area. Nerve pain typically comes and goes slowly and is typically constant when severe. Treatment needs to be sought from a suitable medical or musculoskeletal specialist.

Pain from fractures is usually easily recognized by it sudden onset during a trauma, and its deep, sharp and severe qualities accompanied by obvious bony deformity and loss of function (however I have seen several patients walk into my clinic on feet that subsequent x-rays showed to be fractured).

Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a normal physiologic response to exercise or activity that exceeds our current level of training. DOMS is generally harmless (if temporarily uncomfortable), and can be taken as an indicator that an exercise has successfully challenged muscles sufficiently to stimulate muscle strengthening. In order to build tissue strength, we must push beyond our current comfort zone, which causes micro-tears in muscle fiber, which then triggers muscle repair and tissue building processes (hypertrophy). In MP we call this progressive overload training and use the PRIME system to achieve this.

As its name suggests, a key to recognizing DOMS is that it comes on typically 1-2 days after the activity. Other ways to differentiate DOMS from pain from an injury include that DOMS is mild to moderate, and generally dull and diffuse, affecting the entirety of the muscles involved in the challenging activity, without localization to any particular tendon, joint, or muscle trigger point. DOMS generally feels like sore, tight, achy and tired muscles, and may be felt more acutely when using the affected muscle, but is not affected by someone else moving the body area. DOMS never involves nerves or bones and does not feel numb, electrical, sharp, or tingly.

DOMS generally does not require medical diagnosis or treatment, and fades on its own over several days. Light exercise using the same muscle groups or performing the same activity will generally alleviate DOMS by bringing in oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood and moving metabolic waste products out of the affected areas. Some people have found relief using other practices such as foam rolling and adhering to MP nutrition protocols including nutrient timing.

So the take home messages are the following:

  • Exercise can make you sore and DOMS usually only lasts a few days, is related to the body parts you exercised and responds well to stretching, foam rolling and light exercise.
  • Other injuries last longer, don’t seem to improve with time, on some occasions are worse with movement and can be associated with other symptoms like tingling, referred pain and numbness. These symptoms need further investigation from a qualified health professional.


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Guest Tuesday, 17 July 2018