Think about the quotes you see on Instagram: “Go hard or go home,” “The only workout you regret is the one you skipped,” or “Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.”
We’re here to tell you that these clichés are a load of crap. In fact, sometimes, they can be dangerous. There certainly are times you should skip the gym and rest up, or at least dial down the intensity a few notches. And one of the best reasons to do so is if you’re feeling pain when you’re lifting.
The problem is, lots of people don’t see the problem with pushing through a session if they’re in pain. After all, lifting weights is supposed to hurt, right? Not exactly. While some muscle soreness is to be expected in the day or two after when you’re pushing heavy weight, nagging pain during exercise needs to be addressed ASAP.
“Ignoring weightlifting pain can result in additional inflammation and trauma to the tissue in and around the joints. It can also lead to more chronic degenerative issues over time including wear and tear of the joints and cartilage, degeneration of the tendons, and early-onset arthritis,” explains Paul Mostof, chief of physical therapy at All Sports Physical Therapy.
Here’s everything you need to know about five specific weight lifting pains that pop up while you’re lifting. If you’re dealing with any of these injuries, take a few days off from the gym, then ice the area and, if needed, take anti-inflammatory medications. If you’re still feeling symptoms after several weeks, it’s time to see a doctor.
1. YOUR SHOULDER HURTS AND CLICKS WHEN YOU LIFT OVERHEAD
The shoulder is one of the more commonly injured areas in the weight room, says John-Paul Rue, an orthopaedics and sports medicine doctor. Pain at the top of your shoulder that’s accompanied by a clicking noise could signal inflammation or possibly degenerative changes (like arthritis) in the AC joint, the joint at the top of your shoulder where your scapula and collarbone meet.
Pain and weakness located on the side of the shoulder when you lift overhead may represent rotator cuff pain, either from tendinitis or possibly a tear. And pain in the front of the shoulder with biceps curls or other upper body exercises may indicate biceps tendinitis.
After you consult with a doctor and figure out what’s going on, you can help prevent the injury from recurring by choosing exercises that correct muscle imbalances, says John Kim, a physical therapist at React. Kim recommends stretching and releasing your pecs and upper traps, and incorporating some low-weight back strengthening exercises such as rows and bent-over rows.
2. YOUR ELBOW ACHES AND BURNS
Ever experience a sharp pain in your elbow while doing bicep curls? This could be indicative of a few different issues, but the most common is lateral epicondylitis, or “tennis elbow,” explains Mostoff.
Mostoff says tennis elbow can turn into a very painful chronic condition. If left unchecked, it can make it difficult to grip, hold, and maneuver even the lightest household objects. (And nope, you don’t need to play tennis to get it).
If you suspect you have tennis elbow, Mostoff recommends using ice massage for pain relief. Once the pain has subsided, you can do weighted eccentric wrist extension exercises to help heal the tendons, and strengthening exercises to fix muscular imbalances in the upper arm and shoulder girdle. These include wrist curls and extensions with a dumbbell.
3. YOU HAVE SEVERE, RADIATING BACK PAIN
If you experience back pain radiating into either of your legs, as well as numbness and a pins-and-needles feeling, it could mean you’ve done structural damage to the vertebrae of the spine, or that you’ve pinched or irritated a nerve.
“This often happens in exercises such as squats or deadlifts when using too much weight,” says Mostoff. “The person may attempt to lift the load with a rounded lower back, which places a ton of stress on the spine.”
Plus, says Kim, you can cause lower back pain during deadlifts by relying too much on your lumbar extensors (a.k.a. your low back muscles) instead of your lower posterior chain muscles, like your glutes and hamstrings.
To prevent this from happening in the future, you should always warm up your glutes and engage your entire core before deadlifting. “If the numbness continues to travel down the leg and into the calf and foot, or if you develop any significant weakness and difficulty walking, it’s definitely time to see the doctor,” says Mostoff.
4. YOU HAVE KNEE PAIN
Exercises that include squats, lunges or other deep knee flexion movements can cause added stress and pressure to the knee cap, which can lead to pain or injury.
“Pain along the inside or outside of the knee along the joint line, particularly with bending/twisting types of activities, may be a sign of meniscus injury, particularly if this is associated with the feeling of a popping, cracking or catching sensation,” explains Dr. Rue. If you have a sudden injury with severe pain and swelling, this may represent a more serious injury, such as a ligament sprain or tear.
Stop doing the movement that’s causing knee pain immediately and get checked out by a doctor. Correcting any muscle imbalances, strengthening your glutes and hamstrings by adding glute bridges to your warmups, and making sure your iliotibial band (IT band, the band of muscle along the outside of your upper thigh) is healthy and loose, can all help to reduce knee pain.
5. YOU HAVE DEEP PAIN ALONG YOUR HIP OR GROIN AREA
If you’ve ever experienced a deep pain in your groin — along with a clicking or “locking” feeling — then you know just how painful this type of injury can be.
“This type of pain shouldn’t be ignored, as it could indicate a tear in the labrum, which is a piece of cartilage that serves as a joint lubricator and shock absorber,” says Mostoff.
Mostoff suggests avoiding any deep squatting or lunging, as well as twisting exercises where your feet are planted on the gym floor. Otherwise, you could increase damage to the labrum. The long-term fix for this includes rest and anti-inflammatory meds, as well as strengthening the glutes and pelvic girdle muscle groups to decrease excessive tension on the front portion of your hip.
Stability and balance exercises performed on wobble boards and unstable surfaces that retrain the way these large muscle groups work together are also beneficial. In worst cases, says Mostoff, surgery may be necessary to fix the labrum.
This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US
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