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Muscle soreness or more serious?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Last week I tried a new circuit-style workout that combined cardio with strength training. I had some muscle soreness for the next couple of days, but I knew it was a sign that my workout had been effective.

When muscles are challenged, they develop tiny tears in the muscle fiber. These muscle tears cause the soreness. This type of muscle soreness is completely normal, especially after you’ve done an activity that you’re not accustomed to. It can take a day or two for the muscle to heal itself and get back to normal, but doesn’t usually require serious medical attention. Warming up prior to exercise, resting, engaging in mild exercise to keep the muscle from stiffening, and stretching can help with the soreness. Massage is also an option for those lucky enough to be able to afford it. The good news is that, in the process of healing, your muscles become larger and stronger.   

In contrast to the discomfort of sore muscles, there are times when pain signifies a real problem. Here are some guidelines to help you determine whether you should seek medical attention: 

n Joint pain – Joints are not covered by muscle, so pain in the ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist is rarely muscle related. Joint pain should not be ignored. Stop the activity that you are performing if it causes joint pain and consult your health care provider. 

n Localized pain - If the pain occurs at a specific location and not on both sides of the body (for example not in both hamstrings, or not in both biceps) it probably indicates some type of injury. 

n Persistent pain – If the pain lasts for longer than 2 weeks, if it gets worse, or it doesn’t respond to rest, ice, or pain medications, see a health care professional.

n Swelling – Swelling is a classic sign of an injury and should not be ignored. 

n Routine disturbance – Pain that keeps you awake at night, or makes it hard for you to work or take care of yourself is a sign of a more serious problem.

Pain is the way your body tells you that something is wrong. Don’t try to work through your pain or ignore it. By doing so, you could risk further injury or a more serious condition. 

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