Throughout the course of physical exercise, and life in general, it is normal to sustain minor aches and pains from time to time. Sometimes, however, these otherwise normal instances can become more severe, requiring further attention and care. What causes this increase in severity, and how can we improve symptoms once they have begun?
Tissue tolerance. Movement of our body is made possible by connective tissue. It consists of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. These bodily structures can only handle so much stress before pain and damage occurs. This limit is referred to as the tissue’s tolerance. To illustrate, imagine a thermometer. Somewhere along the length of the thermometer is a line that represents a tissue’s pain threshold, and a little farther above is a line that represents the damage threshold.
Exceeding the threshold. Muscular or joint pain is often the simple result of exceeding the pain threshold of that specific tissue. This can come in several different forms. It can be a highly repetitive physical job. It can be a sudden fall. It can be too much weight when lifting. However, if we do experience pain, it does not necessarily mean that all is over. Like the thermometer in the illustration used above, our body will warn us before any actual damage has occurred. While it is true that sudden and traumatic incidents can cause damage before the body even has the chance to sound off the warning, it does a pretty good job of giving us a heads up. If we have passed our pain threshold, what can we do?
Symptom management. If the pain you experience is severe enough to make movement of the muscle or joint almost impossible, avoid movements that provoke symptoms while still staying active in a manner that is pain-free. If the pain then becomes or has been minor, take steps to increase your pain threshold. This is accomplished by simple, progressive strength training specified towards taking the affected area through as full a range of motion as possible. Doing more work to reduce pain may seem counterintuitive, but stronger connective tissues are more resilient and less prone to injury.
If you are experiencing pain, do not feel that you have failed or that you will never again be able to perform the activities you enjoy. Take a step back, analyze, and give some attention to the muscle groups you may have been neglecting. It will pay off in a big way!