You've probably heard of the adage "no pain, no gain," an adage that may refer to the discomfort you experience during a workout; however, pain is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong. If you persist with this pain with the belief that your body will simply toughen up, you risk seriously harming yourself. Take me, for example. When I began ballet, I allowed myself to dance through the pain--and I ended up paying dearly for it later.
I developed Os Trigonum Syndrome when I began picking up both my frequency and intensity of pointe classes. Os Trigonum is an accessory bone at the back of the ankle. When you point your foot, this little bone gets crushed between your ankle and heel. It can be as painful as a toothache when it flares. It was painful to stand on for long periods of time. I just kept pushing through it, believing that maybe it was a muscle knot or it was part of my fibromyalgia. Big mistake. I eventually had to get off pointe for almost half a year. The surgery was a gift. Healing from it was nothing compared to the pain when I had it.
Now I'm suffering through a hip impingement, a mechanical injury I sustained when I first began ballet, but one I ignored and kept pushing through. The pain was easily bearable when I was at my first school, but when I transferred to a more advanced one, that's when the pain kicked itself into overdrive. I received physical therapy for it and got rid of middle splits. The PT definitely helped to strengthen that area and lessened the pain, but now it's back in full force. I'm assuming squats with a barbell, deadlifts, and the occasional ballet class are to blame. I'm in physical therapy again for it, this time receiving more intensive treatment--think deep tissue massages.
I say all of this to let you know that you should NEVER exercise through pain. If you feel even a little twinge, stop. That little twinge can develop into something more later on, like my hip issue did. And if you allow it to develop into something and keep working through that pain, you could end up needing surgery or even some sort of joint replacement.
As a trainer, I ensure my clients stop when they feel pain. I also try to minimize the amount of delayed onset muscle soreness they may experience the next day. My job as a trainer is not to leave my clients dying at the end of their workouts. It's to leave them feeling accomplished and capable, that it is absolutely possible to reach all of their fitness goals. Not being sore the next day also doesn't necessarily mean you didn't work hard enough. I don't get as sore as I used to because my body has adapted to much of what I do now; however, I know I'm making progress because I'm able to increase the repetitions, the sets, or even the amount of weight I use the next time I do a particular workout. I do not use pain or lack of as a basis for how hard I worked. Subsequently, you shouldn't either.
As a therapeutic exercise specialist, one of my specialties is to be able to design workout programs to help pain sufferers exercise without pain. This is a particular area I enjoy because, as a pain sufferer myself, I know how frustrating it can be trying to find a way to meet your fitness goals without exacerbating any existing pain conditions.
I have one client who had issues with their ankle and had no clue how to work out without hurting it. I managed to structure a workout routine that allowed them to exercise without pain while strengthening the ankle, which then let them eventually do squats and lunges without ankle pain the next day. I also have another client with serious back and knee issues who kept injuring themselves every time they worked out on their own. I managed to give them a routine that left them a little sore the next day, but there was no pain.
It is absolutely possible to engage in a fitness program that can sometimes have the happy side effect of decreasing pain you otherwise normally feel. While many fibromyalgia suffers are not so fortunate, exercise has immensely helped with the unbearable pain levels I used to experience. Now I rarely have any flares.
Exercising without pain may mean having to give up your favorite exercises. For example, I can't do weighted squats...at all. I can't do heavy deadlifts. When I do squats without resistance, I can't go down to parallel. Forget going heavy on the leg press machine. I don't even like the leg curl or leg extension machines; while I can't go heavy on these machines either, I use them now to target the quads and hamstrings that deadlifts and weighted squats used to take care of. Spin class also helps to keep up the strength in my legs since it's gentle on my hip. While leg day is no longer something I look forward to, simply because I can't challenge myself as much as I used to, I understand that the modifications I've made are absolutely necessary so that I HOPEFULLY don't find myself needing a hip replacement in the future.
When it comes to exercise, never push yourself to do more than you're currently capable of. That's how you get injured, sometimes severely.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, nutrition coach, young adult author, moody ballerina.
I help people perform without pain.
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The views expressed on this blog are entirely my own. Any advice I offer is not to be taken as medical advice. If you think you have contraindications to exercise, please see your physician before implementing any sample workout plans I present on this blog.
All images are either my own, from Canva, or Creative Commons