Exercise is imperative for a long, healthy life. Thankfully, you don’t have to work out at the intensity of a professional athlete to reap the benefits. The downside of that fact is that you may not be as optimally conditioned, or stretch like you should, without the guidance of athletic trainers.
“I think it’s great that there are a lot of different sports leagues available and people are participating in more recreational sports or even doing activities on their own such as running and swimming,” says Dr. Teresa Doerre, Assistant Professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “Sometimes, though, I think people try to kick it from zero to sixty very quickly, and that can cause problems on a number of fronts.”
Soreness vs. Injury
While soreness is a positive indicator you’ve worked out your muscles, persistent pain is a sign that something is amiss. “When I tell people to get checked out, it’s usually for pain that’s lingering and preventing them from doing the activities they want to do,” explains Dr. Doerre. “Often, this pain is associated with swelling of a joint.”
Pain Point #1: Knee
The top three injuries in the non-professional athlete occur in the knee, shoulder, and hip areas. Per Dr. Doerre, the most common issue she sees in knees is patellofemoral syndrome or anterior knee pain, which is considered an overuse injury. The cartilage underneath the kneecap becomes irritated from repetitive use and causes a cycle of inflammation and pain.
Typically, anti-inflammatories, rest, and activity modification is enough to clear up symptoms. However, what Dr. Doerre wants to focus on is measures to prevent reoccurrence. “Having good core, hip and quad strength really helps control the movement of your knees and the stress that goes through the joint,” she notes. “So, when I see people who have this kind of pain, I talk to them about steps they can take to help prevent the injury in the future.”
Diversity in exercise regimens and a gradual progression towards higher impact activities are an important part of prevention. “It’s not that they can never participate in those activities again,” adds Dr. Doerre. “We work on getting them symptom-free, getting them strong, and then slowly working back into those kinds of exercises.”
Pain Point #1: Hip
A common hip complaint is a pulled groin, which really has less to do with the hip joint and is more encompassing of the hamstring, quadricep, and adductor muscles surrounding the hips. “These injuries can be really painful. But, the good thing is, for the most part, they are typically low grade, meaning it’s something that can be managed conservatively and without surgery,” explains Dr. Doerre. “It just requires some rest, anti-inflammatory medications, gentle stretching, and then a gradual increase in strengthening.”
Pain Point #1: Shoulder
In the shoulder, Dr. Doerre routinely sees patients with strained rotator cuffs and bursitis. “It’s not uncommon to see people come in with pain they feel in the front of the shoulder, down the side of the shoulder, and sometimes even in the back of the shoulder,” she shares. Again, pain can usually be addressed with rest, ice, and anti-inflammatories, but strengthening muscles surrounding the shoulder is really what is going to keep injuries from recurring or getting worse.
Preparation Is Key
Regardless of the sport or activity, Dr. Doerre advises proper warm-ups, stretching, conditioning, and self-education. “If you are going to embark on a training program or you have a new fitness goal, whether it’s something that’s part of a team or an individual goal such as running a marathon, doing a little bit of research and having a training program is really helpful,” she states. “Ultimately, as long as you feel good and are experiencing a bit of soreness, it’s okay to work past those things. But, if your issues aren’t getting better and it’s becoming a roadblock to your fitness—and possibly your daily life—then it’s time to get checked out.”