The difference between good and bad pain when working out

The difference between good and bad pain when working out

22nd November, 2016

“Feel the burn” is a phrase that a lot of fitness instructors like to use, as is “no pain, no gain.” However, knowing the difference between good and bad pain when working out is of paramount importance. If you continue to exercise when in pain that is not of the good kind, you could end up causing yourself real problems. Below, we will provide some advice to help you distinguish between the different types of pain during exercise.

We all know that we need to experience a level of discomfort if we are going to get results when exercising. A mild burn is what we call good pain. After all, if we are to increase the strength of our muscles, then we must increase the stress placed on our muscles, and this is what causes a burn during any muscle activity. As soon as you finish training, this pain should disappear. Feeling fatigued after a strenuous exercise session shows that you have pushed yourself to your limits. But, there is a fine line, and you should not go too far.

It is important to make sure that the pain you are experiencing correlates with the exercises that you carried out. If you focused on your legs, and the next day they feel a bit achy and tight, this is perfectly normal. But, if you are experiencing lower back pain after doing a lot of sit-ups, for example, then it is an indication that your execution or form was not on point. To avoid any further damage, and to ensure you get the results you desire, you will need to correct this.


Knowing the signs of bad pain 

You need to be aware of the signs of bad pain. The body’s bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and muscles are all living structures. When they experience the stress that comes with working out, they react. Sometimes they will begin to fail, or at the least, they will not respond effectively, if there is too much stress too quickly. This is when bad pain arises, and it can take many different forms, as each of the living structures react differently.

Let’s begin with cartilage, which is the slippery, white tissue, on the end of each bone. It has the purpose of ensuring the bones move smoothly over each other without causing any friction or pain. You can experience fluid and pain in the joint if there is too much stress applied onto the cartilage too rapidly. This causes irritation, and it is imperative to rest until it goes away, otherwise you could suffer from functional issues if the swelling and pain are allowed to increase.

What about bones? A process called remodelling occurs when too much stress is placed on your bones. This means that more bone is placed in the area of the bone that is experiencing the stress. This process is beneficial when stress is applied at the right speed, as it strengthens the bone. However, if there is too much stress too quickly, it can lead to bone failure. You may experience pain in this area, and if you do not rest, a stress fracture can occur. This can cause pain at night and a limp. Of course, if you continue to leave this untreated, the bone could break. This is why it is so important to listen to your body.

Next, we move onto the tendons. Swelling and pain can be experienced, as tendons get inflamed when they experience too much stress too quickly. Tendinitis pain will be felt both during exercise and afterwards. If you do a lot of squatting or jumping exercises, you may experience patellar tendon problems, which is tendinitis of the kneecap tendon. Not only can you encounter pain when continuing to carry out such activities, but you may also have discomfort when getting out of a chair or climbing stairs, for example.

The most common type of pain is muscle soreness. This can regularly occur if you carry out a new exercise that you are not yet familiar with. You will typically experience soreness a few hours after the exercise, but it really peaks a day or two after the workout session. Sometimes, this is nothing to worry about, but in other cases, it can represent actual muscle damage. When should you be worried? If the muscle is extremely sore to touch and move, and if there is any swelling, these are signs that you could be experiencing bad pain, and thus you need to relax, and see a medical professional if the pain does not go away.


When to be concerned

There are some signs you should look out for that indicate action should be taken. These are as follows:

  • Pain that lasts a lot longer after the exercise
  • Pain that has an impact on your performance while working out
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Pain that does not subside with rest
  • The development of weakness
  • Pain that impacts normal functionality, for example, sleeping or walking
  • Pain that wakes you up from your sleep
  • Pain that increases over time
  • Severe sweating at night
  • Chills or fevers
  • Pain that is continual
  • Pain that does not get better with treatment
  • Pain that requires more and more pain medicine as time goes on


If you experience any of the above, it is important to seek a medical evaluation straight away.

Avoiding pain

One thing that training instructors relentlessly tell us is that we need to warm up effectively. It is repeated as much as “you need to drink eight glasses of water a day.” However, as you can see from the information above, the importance of a dynamic warm-up is huge. This will ensure that your muscles are turned on and your body is prepared for activity.

Knowing the difference between good and bad pain is of paramount importance. A mild burn while working out is a good thing, but any pain that lasts a lot longer than it should is a concern. Don’t ignore the problem. It is better to be safe than sorry, and seeing a medical professional now could stop the issue from getting a lot worse in the future.

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

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