Can I exercise with a sore *insert body part here*?

I have this conversation a lot:

Me: “Hello highly intelligent and good looking client who chooses to train with me, how are you feeling today?”

Intelligent and good looking client: “I’m ok Andy, except, I have a bit of soreness in my…..”

The sore thing is usually a joint, mostly knee(s) or shoulder(s), although I also get asked about sore muscles or the more general and difficult, sore back.

What usually follows is a question about whether it is safe or OK to exercise with this sore body part, and if so, what specific exercises should be done?

I have the same answer in every single case:

“It depends…”

The human body is a complicated series of mechanical, chemical and emotional connections, and while some movement or exercise is usually good for everyone at every stage of life, your body and experience of life is unique to you.

For the purpose of being slightly more helpful today I’ll break down “soreness” into a couple of different categories to discuss, but remember:

If you have persistent or ongoing pain you should see your doctor, they can and will refer you to an appropriate specialist. It is definitely worth getting a professionals opinion, not just mine or Dr Google.

Soreness 1: Achy muscles

If you are new or returning to exercise from a break, or if you are trying something new or harder than you are used to, you will probably feel Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. It is that feeling of stiff, tender muscles than can make movement feel uncomfortable, but this discomfort is usually in the muscle itself, as opposed to feeling pain in a joint.

This is completely normal, and just means that your muscles have suffered under a load they are not accustomed to. It is also a good thing, because it means that you’ve done some work and if you give those muscles the opportunity they will come back stronger than before.

This type of soreness will only last a day or two and can be alleviated by some relatively gentle movement or light stretching, as well as some rest. Typically doing the same level of exercise or movement that you did to create the soreness will help loosen those stiff muscles and reduce DOMS reoccurring.
If your muscle soreness last longer, you may have done slightly more damage to the muscle tissue itself, and further rest and a bit of rehabilitation may be required. Give it time, and then slowly start using the muscle again, with light stretches and bodyweight movements.

If it doesn’t get better with rest and gentle movement you may need to investigate further. As always, start with your GP.

Soreness 2: Joint Pain

Joint pain is where specific investigation of what is wrong with you is a very good idea. As a general rule, joints shouldn’t hurt so if yours do, particularly if the pain has hung around for a while, go get it checked out by a professional.

Your pain could be caused by damage, like an accident or impact, it could be caused by a ‘bad’ movement pattern where the surrounding muscles don’t move or support it optimally, or you could unfortunately have any number of degenerative conditions associated with your job or lifestyle, your genetics or health / medical conditions. This is why an accurate diagnoses will go a long way towards improving things.

Joints are complicated structures with lots of moving parts, but because of this the right type of exercise is almost always useful.

Particularly if there has been trauma to a joint, or your pain is caused by inappropriate movement patterns then rehabilitation exercises will be crucial to managing and improving that pain. These types of exercise might use weights, resistance bands, or bodyweight only movement. They will nearly always however make use of lighter loads and higher numbers of repetitions to stimulate an adaptive response within the joint that will strengthen and protect it against further injury.

A good specialist will be able to interpret any medical information you have collected, observe your joint movement, discuss the sensations you experience and prescribe a series of exercises that will help. It is always very good to let your wonderful personal trainer (me) know when you have been prescribed exercise, so that I can assist you on your rehabilitation journey.

Soreness 3: Back pain

Back pain is something that many of us experience, and while for many the causes and treatments can be fairly straightforward it’s impossible for anyone to see what’s going on with you over the internet. So again, if you have ongoing problems go talk to your doctor.

You may have recently seen a few news articles about back pain, and it seems for many a contributing factor is weakness through the core abdominal area.

Regardless of where you are in your fitness journey, having a strong core will improve your life.

Strengthening your core can help you deal with back pain that is caused by poor posture, will result in less pressure on your shoulder joints when you move your arms and can help to stop you from developing a stooped or twisted posture as you age.

There are lots of things you can do to improve your core strength. Making an effort to stand up tall when you’re standing up, or performing exercises like planks, right through to more advanced holds you might see gymnastics performing.

To sum up, exercising with a sore (anything) may be really beneficial for you. It all comes down to what is sore, why it’s sore, and what the best way to exercise for that issue will be.

A good fitness professional or specialist will take your situation into account and prescribe appropriate movement to improve it. This means that a group exercise class is not always the way to go, unless there is provision to adapt it to your specific needs.

Whatever soreness, injury or issue you have, I would encourage you to keep moving as much as you can, while making sure to give your body what it needs to recover, strengthen and keep you in good nick for as long as possible.

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