Recently I was training a client when our session was interrupted by a gym member who wanted my advice on an injury. He said he’d woken up one day over a week ago with pain in his lower abdomen so bad he could barely sit up. He went on to say while it had since gotten better, it still hurt and was painful enough that he couldn’t do certain movements while working out.
Of course my initial reaction was to advise this person to go to a doctor. An injury or pain that doesn’t go away after a day or so could be serious, and since I’m not a doctor it is my professional responsibility to refer him to one right away.
He then confided to myself and my client (who witnessed this entire exchange) that he had done a lot of online research and was concerned he could have a hernia, but didn’t want to seek medical treatment because if it was one, he’d have to stop working out for at least six weeks.
I have no experience with hernias but know enough to realize that’s a serious medical issue, and I again told him to see a doctor. My client echoed my advice. We both assured him leaving something potentially serious untreated would be much more damaging and could prevent him from being healthy enough to work out much longer than a few weeks, and although he agreed, I’m still not sure he will take the appropriate action.
Is it serious?
This brought to mind the question- how do you know if an injury is serious, and when is it ok to keep working out? I can certainly relate to the fear of not being able to exercise. When you enjoy working out and become accustomed to doing it on a daily basis, not being able to can be hard mentally and physically. Working out makes you feel good and boosts your energy, which is hard to let go of, and of course you can add to that the fear you will lose muscle mass and/or gain weight.
However, reason tells us taking time off to heal is much better in the long run and the healthy way to go.
If you have an injury that lasts longer than a day or two, or physical activity is painful, you should always stop exercising and consult a doctor.
Muscle soreness and muscle strains will generally heal on their own with proper care. Working out can actually relieve sore muscles and isn’t likely to be harmful.
In the case of a muscle strain, the best course of action is what we call “R.I.C.E.” It stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. Ice the affected area 20 minutes on/20 minutes off for an hour or so, wrap it in an athletic bandage, keep it elevated as much as possible, and take some time off from the gym. This should allow the strain to heal fairly quickly on its own and you will be back to normal in a couple days.
If it doesn’t get better even then, see a doctor.
When Working Out is the Best Medicine
Sometimes exercise can actually be beneficial to a long-term issue or injury. If working out makes a sore or tight area feel better, not worse, then it is probably safe to continue exercise, but make appropriate modifications so as not to aggravate the injury.
Incorporating foam rolling and thorough stretching is also a good way to increase recovery time and rehab a tight, sore or overused muscle.
Pinpointing the Problem
It’s important to remember the body is one long kinetic chain, so you shouldn’t assume the area that hurts is necessarily the problem. Lower back pain can be due to improper alignment anywhere from the feet to the pelvis. The only way to truly determine the source of the problem is to see a medical professional.
Don’t Get Discouraged
If you are dealing with an injury or recovering from one, the important thing is to not get discouraged. Do what you can, but be sure not to push too hard.
I have a client who has dealt with a series of injuries, one after the other, for months now. Each time one gets better, another pops up. But instead of giving up or quitting, she still comes to her sessions with me twice a week, and does whatever she can. When her foot was injured, we worked her upper body and core. When she sprained her wrist, we focused on lower body and any upper body moves that were not contraindicated by her injury.
Her dedication is so inspiring to me, because she could easily choose to become frustrated and throw in the towel, but she doesn’t. She knows it is important to let injuries have time to heal, but is determined to stay active as much as she can without hindering that recovery.
Exercising with supervision from a trainer, using proper form and working within your fitness/ability level is the best way to prevent injuries, but they can and do happen. Remember that temporary setbacks are only that, and if you take the necessary time to allow your body to heal, you’ll be much better off in the long run.
And if you even think you MIGHT have a hernia- please see a doctor!