How do you know if it’s a pain you should train through or one you should rest?

There’s no denying it – physical activity often comes with its fair share of aches and pains. While many people who exercise regularly are getting better at listening to their bodies when it comes to training, one thing most struggle with is differentiating between what is simply a ‘niggle’ and what might indicate an ‘injury’.

So, when it comes to keeping fit, when should you tell yourself to keep going and push through, and when should you actually rest?

The nature of training means that you will often feel fatigued and sore during certain periods, particularly if you’re training for an event. Overloading the musculoskeletal system and allowing it to recover is how you make gains and get stronger.

According to Sports and Exercise physiotherapist Holly Brasher, issues arise when the fine line – between ‘niggle’ and ‘injury’ – gets crossed, and that happens when you don’t allow yourself adequate recovery time. “Individual thresholds for how much training load your body can handle before injury will depend on your athletic history (or how long you’ve been consistently training for), your biomechanics and your genetic make-up”.

“In other words, the longer you’ve been training at a consistent level, the better adapted your musculoskeletal system will be for tolerating a higher training load. Similarly, the better your movement mechanics are, the more efficiently you’ll be able to move – both of which correspond to a reduced risk of injury”.

As an aside, it’s also true that if you were lucky enough to inherit good connective tissue and bone genes from your parents, you will have a lower risk of injury. Unfortunately, we can’t do much about who are parents are, but we can control the other factors to a certain extent.

When feeling discomfort or pain as a result of your workout, it may be helpful to think through this set of general rules:

  • If it’s general muscle soreness from a change in training program or exercise then have a couple of day’s easy training or rest.
  • If it’s a new niggle that you haven’t felt before get it checked out- you don’t want to miss anything nasty!
  • If it’s an old niggle that you have been able to self-manage in the past with guidance from your Physio then you are OK to continue to train (e.g. Recurring shin splints that you have been able to settle in the past with icing, stretching and massage and relative rest).
  • If you continue to train and it’s not improving or getting worse then see your Physio.

Training in one particular discipline can often mean that you do a lot of repetitive motions, which can lead to injury.  Having a well-structured training plan – that allows for adequate recovery between your hard sessions – is essential, as is having a structured season allowing for some down time to recover and work on things in the off season like core strength and flexibility.

Other tips for avoiding injury in the first place include:

  • Managing your training load on a weekly, monthly and yearly cycle will reduce your risk of injury.
  • Having strategies in place to maintain flexibility and reduce muscle tension post training can be of benefit.
  • Stretch bands, foam rollers and trigger balls are great devices you should be making use of.
  • Having an assessment with your Physio will help identify any flexibility issues, strength weaknesses or movement and control problems that may increase your risk of injury.

Keep in mind that being injured means that you can’t train, race or compete, and all your hard work in training can quickly be lost. While it’s true you need to push to get gains, you also need to recover. We don’t get stronger or fitter from the training we do, but rather how we recover from the training. Having a day or two off to get niggles treated or modifying your training program may result in a missed session or two; but it will keep you training and competing in the medium and longer term.

To find yourself a physio in your area, head over to https://choose.physio/findaphysio.

For more helpful, health-related tips and tricks, follow the Australian Physiotherapy Association on Facebook and Instagram.

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