So, you’re in pain. You think it could’ve been from sleeping, maybe from your training or exercise regimen, maybe it was just a random tweak you only feel during certain movements… regardless of its presentation, your main question is, “what do I do now?”
Here are 5 simple steps to take when those aches, tweaks, and pains flare up and how to handle it with confidence:
Assess. Now this may sound fancy or like a doctor should be doing it, but I want YOU to actually take the time to assess a few things related to the pain you’re feeling. How has the past week looked like for you? Where were your stress levels? What about your nutrition and hydration? Have you been more active than normal, whether that’s inside or outside of the gym? How much sleep have you been getting? Has it been good quality sleep? Have you been feeling fatigued or sluggish lately? How long have you been feeling that way? These are ALL questions I typically ask my patients when they come in to see me with nagging aches and pains that tend to pop up. We often like to look at one specific activity/exercise/motion to be the one and only reason for why you’re feeling pain, but sometimes it’s more of a cumulative affect. It’s actually more likely that the specific activity/exercise/motion/etc… could’ve been more like the “cherry on top” that finally elicited the painful response rather than being the sole reason itself.
Scale. Pain doesn’t mean stop everything. It can in certain circumstances, but most of the time, it’s better to scale some of your planned activities or training program to facilitate a better response from your body while it’s not feeling it’s best. For example, let’s say your low back is achy and feels tight, but deadlifts are on the agenda at the gym today so you think you should stay home and rest to make it feel better and get back to it next week. Instead of completely avoiding activity that involves your low back, try to find ways to move it that may not be as aggravating. Try light deadlifts for a low number of sets and reps, if it’s still aggravating, maybe instead of deadlifts you switch for an upper body lift and do deadlifts another day. Maybe you choose to go for a long walk or low intensity jog, maybe you do some yoga to stretch out and get back to the program tomorrow. The vast majority of recent data points us to encouraging exercise when dealing with minor bouts of pain to help diminish the severity of the pain you’re feeling and, in some cases, get rid of it all together. At SkanStrength, ALL of our coaches have a minimum of a Masters Degree in coaching, exercise science, healing, handling injuries, and mitigating injury risk. Our coaches will take the original program outlined for the day and scale any/all exercises to ones that aren’t painful for you so you can still have a successful day of training, while also helping to alleviate your pain.
Recover. Sometimes, the best thing you can do to facilitate a better physical recovery process that primes you to endure more training, requires doing the simple things people like to throw out the window when you think of recovery. There are 5 main staples we usually come back to, and those include nutrition, hydration, stress management, load/fatigue management, and sleep. The best way to cover your bases when it comes to recovery is thinking of those 5 main pillars to health and recovery. Nutrition — First and foremost, make sure you’re eating enough calories to sustain your activity levels. Within that, make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Every meal should have at least 1 serving of each of those categories for it to be well-balanced. The more color on your plate, the more diverse the nutrients you’re consuming. Protein is often the hardest one to eat enough of, so sometimes the addition of a protein supplement once per day can be a good recommendation to help increase the total amount you’re consuming on a day to day basis. Hydration — Drink more plain ol’ water. This is probably one of the simplest and most overlooked of the pillars of health and recovery. As we age, we get into the groove of drinking coffee and iced coffees all day to your favorite juice or fruit drink or soda, and then turning to your nightly glass of wine or beer to top off the evening before starting the day all over again. But we’re missing a hell of a lot of benefit if we aren’t drinking enough plain water. All the way from brain fog, to levels of fatigue, muscle soreness or cramps, and down to the cellular level of just nutrient transport, absorption, and total system efficiency can be helped with drinking more water. If you’re an endurance athlete or someone who participates regularly in long distance, low-moderate intense levels of exercise (like hiking, biking, running, cycling, climbing, rowing, etc…) or sweats a lot during exercise, you may also benefit from drinking some electrolytes. And no, I don’t just mean Gatorade. I mean potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Gatorade does have all of these, plus some, in their pre-mixed popular electrolyte drink, but there’s also a decent amount of sugar or artificial sugars in those drinks. A healthier option for these may be LMNT, Nuun, Liquid IV, and others, where the added sugar content is much less and the focus stays on the electrolytes. You can also make your own electrolyte drink at home using a pinch of Himalayan Salt, a squeeze of a lemon or lime, and then filling the rest of the glass up with water. One of these per day (especially on the days you’re training or sweating more) can make a big difference in your hydration and fatigue. Stress Management — This is a tougher one. Stress is something that everyone experiences and there’s no getting away from it. However, in periods of time when there’s more stress than usual, it’s totally normal for you to see performance dip or lag along with aches and pains creeping out, higher levels of fatigue and exhaustion, irritability, and more. No, I don’t have a magic pill or drink for stress management, but some helpful ways to manage stressors in a healthy manner can look like journaling regularly, meditating, screen-free time daily, daily or weekly time limits on social media, getting outside more often, speaking with a counselor or psychologist, taking medication prescribed by mental health professionals as recommended, making time for friends and family, and regular acts of self-care doing things you love to do or make you feel more you. There’s no easy rhyme or reason to this one, but trial and error is a good way to approach finding a healthy, productive way to manage stress. As a chiropractor and coach, it’s more likely than not that I ask about this on your very first appointment and during most follow-ups as well. I do so from a standpoint of helping manage your workload/physical stressors, but also because I want you to leave the office feeling better than you did when you first walked in with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Fatigue + Load Management — This sounds fancier than it is. Stress, whether it’s emotional or physical… stress is stress is stress. We have to recover from all of it somehow and the human body is incredibly capable of handling a lot of stress, especially if we continually ask it to handle more and more and more in a progressive manner. We call this progressive overload. The body gradually adapts to those demands and is able to handle more and more over time. However, there’s a point where we may need to dial back the intensity of your workout if you’re feeling excessively fatigued, stressed, and your performance isn’t up-to-par. Why add more stress to the system when it’s already feeling overloaded to the point of aches and pains and tweaks emerging already? That’s a tell-tale sign for me that your system is handling enough stress at the moment and maybe we should scale things back for you. That could look like hitting lighter weights, cutting volume in half, or just giving you something that gets you moving and sweaty but isn’t really super difficult. Not forever, often just one day or even one week is enough, just until more of that stress is able to dissipate and you’re able to recover better from the demands that training places on you. Sleep — The last, but certainly not least, of these sub-categories of recovery is sleep. It sounds cliché and way too simple to say sleep is the best thing for your recovery, but that’s the damn truth. And not just the amount of sleep, but also the quality of sleep is important here. The average recommendation for sleep is 7-9 hours per night of good quality sleep, hitting REM cycles and waking feeling refreshed. For parents, night-shift workers, and most occupations requiring majority of the day spent on a computer or some kind of “screen” certainly doesn’t help this situation, but we can do the best we can. Some tips for better sleep may include a nighttime routine to help you fall asleep sooner, staying off of screens for an hour before bedtime, lavender scents or calming teas, dimmer lights and quieter sounds, putting a time limit on drinking fluids about an hour before bedtime to reduce getting up for bathroom trips in the middle of the night, and getting to sleep around the same time each evening and waking around the same time each morning. There are also some in-phone settings you can set up to help limit total time on social media platforms, blue light dimming settings to help take some strain off of your eyes as the sun sets and your nighttime routine begins, and even wearing blue-light blocking lenses in your glasses to help reduce the amount of exposure to blue light throughout the day could help with this as well. Our body is able to truly heal without our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system from dominating, while our parasympathetic nervous system takes over to help calm, heal, digest, and restore during sleep. This is wonderful to help manage stress, heal after intense exercise, aches, pains, and tweaks, illnesses or sickness, and so much more. Sleep is one of the most powerful of these pillars that we can address and improve for better recovery.
Remember Pain =/= Damage. Our first thought when it comes to being in pain, is that something is broken, not working right, torn, strained, or damaged. That’s why our body is having a response in the first place… right? Not always. Pain is finicky, but it doesn’t always mean there’s physical damage inside of you. Pain doesn’t always lead to needing surgery, a full blown rehab program, or even a formal assessment. Sometimes, pain just pops up often in areas we’ve experienced pain or injury previously. This can happen when the stressors become too much and the body isn’t able to adapt at the speed we want it to OR we aren’t recovering well enough for the body to be able to adapt to the demands we’re placing on it. But again, it doesn’t mean there’s physical damage.
Communicate. I totally understand that once there’s an injury or sensations of pain, it feels like you can’t live your life normally anymore. It can be intimidating and scary. If you’re feeling unsure about what to do next and need some professional assistance, please reach out to your local chiropractor or physical therapist for guidance. As your chiropractor, I am always on your team and I’m here to help assess, diagnose, treat, and assist you in finding pain-management strategies that work for you. I will always collaborate with you on how we can tackle your aches and pains together in a successful and productive manner.
Pain is never fun, but we can learn a lot about ourselves when it arises. Hopefully using these tips, you can face your pain confidently. If you’re in pain and you aren’t sure what’s going on or where to turn, reach out to me by filling out the form at the bottom of this page. I’ll get back to you within 24 hours with an appointment time!