Pain Management for the Weekend Warrior

Michael Sabia, MD

Whether you work full- or part-time, are a student, a busy mom or dad juggling family obligations, or all of the above, one thing you may all have in common is finding time to exercise during the week. Despite your best intentions, there is just not enough time. So what are your options? Not workout at all? Only workout during the weekend?

Squeezing in a workout on the weekend is perfectly fine. But cramming in two hours a day of high intensity training on a Saturday and Sunday can have negative health consequences. You may ask yourself, “What’s the real harm in doing an intense workout for several hours a day only on the weekend?” These extended workouts that occur only on the weekends are similar to a “fad diet.” If you’re on the celery diet for a week, then go back to the way you ate previously you may lose a few pounds, but then you’re going to gain it back.

The people who spend hours and hours in the gym on the weekend to “catch up” for what they missed during the week are putting a lot of stress and strain on their muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and the body in general. Some of these high-intensity, interval training exercises that are done for extended periods of time leave your body in a pro-inflammatory state. Regrouping and healing from this weekend torment can take days to weeks. It can disrupt your normal sleep-wake pattern, alter your appetite, and affect your mood.

We can survive a 20-mile run to find our way back from being stranded in the desert or carry a wounded friend on our back to shelter in an emergency. But we’re not designed to do these heroic events routinely.

Our body responds much better to a routine. A daily or every other day low impact, stretching, strengthening exercise routine that takes 15-30 minutes will serve our bodies much better in the long run. Box jumps for an hour, twenty sets of power clings and presses, or two hours of Zumba aren’t the only way to get your heart rate up and break a sweat. A brief and frequent exercise routine combined with the right diet can serve you well.

How do you know you over did it? How can you differentiate normal post workout soreness from your body trying to heal an injury? The pain from your body trying to heal an injury may be located in the same area as “normal soreness” but most of the time the quality of the pain will be different. Sharp, burning, radiating pain more commonly accompany an injury as opposed to the usual achy pain that we feel after a tough workout. Pain that persists beyond the usual few days or a week after a workout should start to spark a concern. Pain that occurs spontaneously, without any provoking factors may be an alarm your body is signaling telling you there is something wrong.

What do you do once you’re in this painful category? Thankfully, there a multitude of treatment options that can get you back in to your routine. Getting evaluated by your primary care physician is the first step. A thorough history and physical will lead them to a treatment algorithm that includes: oral medications, physical therapy, further testing, referral to a pain specialist, or referral to a surgeon.

If you go down the referral path where you need to see a pain specialist or a surgeon there is still a good chance that you don’t need surgery to get you out of this rut. There are a host of minimally invasive injection/treatment options that your pain specialist will most likely be able to offer you. No matter how you got here, taking initiative by letting your primary care doctor know that you’re in pain will get you back to enjoying life.

Michael Sabia, MD, is the Division Head of Pain Management at Cooper. To learn more about pain management at Cooper, click here.

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