Pain has a purpose, telling us something is changing or as a warning of imminent damage. Muscle strength improves as the result of challenging a muscle or muscle group with exercise, most commonly eccentric (muscle lengthening) exercises. During a long and intense exercise session the muscles actually remodel and become stronger and more efficient. During activity this is perceived as the ‘burn’, a good pain which is the basis of the popular phrase: “No pain, no gain”. Soreness felt in the muscle belly one to two days after exercising, that is tender to touch and spreads out over a large area is considered ‘good pain’ referred to as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. As long as it’s dull with moderate stiffness and short-lived there’s no need to be concerned. ‘Bad pain’ is a warning foretelling damage as a result of increased stress on different structures. Muscle spasm can be in response to injury – the spasm occurs abruptly, is painful, limits movement and is usually short-lived. A muscle strain, or pulled muscle, occurs when the muscle is overstretched or overused either because it’s compensating for weak muscles or due to stress. A mild strain may feel slightly stiff but still flexible. With good management the symptoms goaway within a few weeks. A severe strain usually requires more intensive treatment. If the endons connecting muscle to bones get irritated they respond by getting inflamed, which is characterised by sudden localised pain.
Increased stress on cartilage is characterised by pain and swelling in the joint limiting movement. Likewise, bones need time to respond to new stress. If stressed too quickly pain is felt during ctivity and if not addressed may result in a stress fracture, characterised by loss of function and pain.
Pain that shoots down your arm or leg or from one area to another may be spinal in origin. This is caused by pressure or trauma to the nerve roots as they exit the spinal column. If you develop weakness, tingling or numbness this may indicate nerve problems. Pain after exercise or activity shouldn’t be constant, or massively affect your daily routine. Neither should it require increasing amounts of medication. If you can’t decide whether the pain is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ then it is always a good idea to be assessed by a physiotherapist.