Whether you’re “feeling the burn” during a workout or dealing with stiff and sore muscles after the fact, pain is an unavoidable companion when you exercise intensely.
In Paleolithic times, pain was a part of life. There was no such thing as aspirin or ibuprofen, so if you were dealing with pain, you pretty much had to just accept it and carry on.
Modern man has grown a bit soft when it comes to pain since we now have so many options for relieving pain and relieving it quickly.
It’s inadvisable to take a pain killer before or during a workout, since these can mask a legitimate problem. Pain serves a very useful function, letting us know that something is wrong and that if we don’t correct the cause of the pain, we are at risk of a more serious problem.
Of course, the pain of a workout is self-inflicted and necessary for maximum fitness gains. So the question then becomes, how do we deal with the short term pain induced by intense exercise?
It’s important to distinguish between the pain of effort (i.e., “the burn”) and the pain of an impending injury such as a joint strain or pulled muscle. Usually the latter will be a sudden, intense pain while the pain of intense effort comes on slowly, gradually intensifying with each repetition.
If you experience any pain that you suspect to be related to an injury, it’s important to stop what you’re doing and apply the “RICE” formula:
- Rest the injured muscle or joint,
- Ice the afflicted area for 15 minutes at a time,
- Compress the affected area using a tensor bandage or similar device, and
- Elevate the area above the level of the heart to reduce the immediate blood flow to the area and keep swelling to a minimum.
If you’re past the 48-hour mark since the injury, you can start to use heat instead of ice. Heat increases the blood flow to the affected area and brings nutrients and repair materials to help rebuild at the point of injury.
In terms of psychology, the best way to deal with the pain of a workout is to accept that there will be some discomfort. Remind yourself that this will be a short-lived feeling and that it’s a necessary step on the road to better fitness and health.
Relax your body as much as possible and breathe deeply; tensing your muscles will increase your feelings of discomfort.
The pain of a workout shouldn’t be too intense, if you’re really struggling, it’s perfectly acceptable to ease up a bit to a level at which you’re more comfortable.
If you do choose to use a pain killer such as ASA or Ibuprofen after your workout, check with your physician or pharmacist for advice.
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