Knee pain can impact many people, especially if you’re the type of person that rarely skips a workout. That sort of dedication is priceless when it comes to achieving your fitness goals, but it can also be detrimental to your health.
Many people who are that committed to their fitness often continue to push themselves long past when they should stop and rest. Knees are some of the first casualties of an overactive lifestyle or improper form.
Given that, how can you tell the difference between when you need to take it easy and when you can just keep going?
The Type of Pain
First of all, no type of knee pain should be completely ignored. Pain’s function is to let us know that something is wrong and to compel us to avoid that behavior in the future. However, different types of pain indicate different things.
Sharp, intense pain in the knee is a cause for immediate concern. “Sharp” pains occur when there is a sudden spike in pain levels. Just like snapping your hand back from a hot stove, you’ll probably stop whatever inciting action on reflex. If the pain goes away pretty quickly, then it might be a good idea to take it easy, but you’ll likely be okay. On the other hand, if you really hurt yourself, it might settle into a duller pain.
Now, just because a pain is described as “dull” does not mean that it isn’t severe. Dull pain can be the result of a serious injury, but it is the pain is more spread out. It’s also classic “aftershock” pain — after you’ve been seriously injured, it’s the pain telling you that that area is vulnerable. However, dull pain can also be the result of a condition you can do little about, but hear that from a doctor before you just assume. It could also be the result of improper form. If that’s the case, make sure to correct your form, and the pain should go away.
Degree of Movement
Even if it doesn’t hurt too badly, if you’re having trouble moving your leg the full range of motion, this is a sure sign that something is wrong. If you feel resistance when moving your leg, you need to see a physician ASAP. You might have damaged a muscle, ligament, or even broke a bone. Immediately after injury, your body can go into shock; the adrenaline floods your bloodstream, preventing you from feeling the pain. However, it will wear off, and when you try to stand or walk ten minutes later, you’ll find yourself crippled.
If your leg is stiff, but still capable of the full range of movement, your muscles might just be sore or you could be missing essential nutrients. Stretching and bananas (potassium!) will do you wonders, trust me. Stiff legs might just need to be stretched, or you could go for a slow jog to warm them up. Getting the blood flowing through your limbs will help reduce any feelings of soreness.
Now, this may sound obvious — clearly, whatever prognosis your doctor gives you will affect how you approach physical activity later on — but you also need to think about your psychological prognosis. You might be physically ready to increase the weight of your squats, play football, or take the twelve flights of stairs up to your office, but psychologically you aren’t. You’re so used to preferencing one knee over the other or altering your movement so you don’t put too much weight on it. When it comes time for you to use your affected knee, you don’t have trust in it. This can actually lead to reinjury, since your moments will be unnatural.
All this boils down to your confidence. If you don’t trust your knee, then the idea of “pushing through the pain” isn’t going to help, because you’re not really pushing yourself. Yes, you don’t want to hurt anything that’s already weak, but babying it doesn’t help anything either. You’ve got to find the right balance, where you’re still pushing yourself through some discomfort without putting yourself through paces you aren’t ready for yet. There are ways that you can still exercise without straining your knees. If you’d rather focus on strength and stability training while working out in a low-impact environment, like a hot tub or the shallow end of a pool. Move up to solid surfaces when you’re ready.
And whether you injured your knees as a result of sports, lifting, or an accident, all of these factors should be taken into consideration. You should only push through the pain if the pain isn’t too severe, you can fully move your leg, and you’re confident in your knee’s ability to do its job. Ultimately, though, you have to rely on your own judgement.
If you recognize it’s completely out of your scope, it’s time to see a physician. Admitting “weakness” and putting your fitness goals on hold might seem impossible, but you need to think in the long term. If you hope to maintain a swole lifestyle, you need to prioritize your ability to work out in the future, not just short-term gains. This might mean putting your goals on hold, but it’s worth it in the long run.