Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Listen to Your Body: If It Doesn’t Feel ‘Good,’ It Probably Isn’t

Image of Three soldiers running on blacktop road in the country. Army Pfc. Victor Vasquez and Spc. Christian Kerkado-Colon run with Spc. Alexander Haydon as he finishes the two-mile run portion of the Army Combat Fitness Test at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 26 (Photo by Samantha Tyler, U.S. Army Materiel Command).

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Pain Management

Whatever you call it – training, working out, exercise, PT – some level of intense physical activity at regular intervals is part and parcel of being in the military.

This could include anything from rucking several pounds of combat gear, running, or playing sports to lifting weights.

One of the keys to a service member’s ability to stay physically fit and avoid undue long-term damage to their body is knowing the difference between “normal” aches and pains and what may be signs of something more serious.

“There are several indicators that your body will give you when determining whether you are experiencing normal discomfort or ‘good’ pain, in a way, versus pain that needs to be addressed,” said Air Force Capt. Kameryn Corcoran, a physical therapist at David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

Some of the key indicators, she said, are:

  • Pain during activity
  • Duration, or pain that continues after ending an activity
  • Pain that limits the duration or intensity of your activities

“These are the things you want to look for when thinking about whether to push through or stop,” said Corcoran.

Running injuries, specifically, are usually recurrent or nagging aches or pains that start and progress without obvious injury, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Aaron Stoll, a physical therapist at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Florida.

Stoll said these injuries normally fall into two categories: training errors or overuse, and lack of preparation.

“The first category can result in aches, pains, and declining performance and can be signs that you’re overloading and need a couple days off to recover,” he said. “The latter can cause plantar fasciitis, hamstring tightness, patellofemoral pain syndrome, ‘runner’s knee’ or IT (iliotibial) band syndrome. Others may develop hip or back pain with running due to stiffness of the leg muscles or trunk.”

While these types of conditions are not usually a sign of serious injury, they can and should be dealt with to prevent the symptoms from worsening and to optimize continued performance, said Stoll.

It’s essential to understand the difference between “good” and “bad” pain. Good pain or soreness is a normal response to pushing your body past its current level of tissue load tolerance. Stiffness and aches after working out can be completely normal, said Corcoran.

“If you push past that soreness and overload the capacity your body has at that point, that’s when you start to get closer to a risk of injury,” she said. “Often, I’ll tell patients to adhere to a 10% progression rule. If you’re increasing your activity more than 10% per week, you are at risk for overloading your tissues or structures at a rate faster than what they are able to adapt or recover at properly.

If any pain persists longer than three to five days, it’s likely a good idea to consult a medical professional as this may be a sign of potential injury.

In terms of pain levels, “Try not to overthink it,” Corcoran said.

A good analogy – and a simplified version of the Defense and Veterans Pain Rating Scale – is to think of a stoplight.

“Green light is if you’re experiencing pain between a zero and a three. If you’re between a four to a six, you’re more in the yellow light range and you should start to slow down and think about what may be causing your discomfort – technique, posture, etc. Seven to 10 means you should stop and potentially seek medical attention, especially if it’s acute pain,” said Corcoran.

Signs that an injury or pain may be serious include sharp pain that prevents your normal range of motion or prevents a part of your body from moving altogether, pain associated with a significant amount of swelling, deformity or bruising, or pain that lasts past the five-day threshold, especially if a person hasn’t put any stress on that part of the body since the pain began. You should also seek help if the pain is constant, gets worse or keeps you awake at night.

Regardless of whether or not the pain is something serious, giving your body time to recover is always recommended.

“The key to building strength is the time during which your body is recovering,” Corcoran said. “That’s when your muscles rebuild. That’s when your structures get stronger and adapt."

If you’re not allowing for that recovery time, she said, we’re breaking down our body without getting the positive benefits.

In the event that an injury is serious, the quicker the intervention, the higher the likelihood of a quick recovery.

A sprained ankle for example, can turn into chronic pain or may place undue stress on other parts of your body surrounding the ankle due to overcompensation if left unaddressed.

“We can get you back to full function a lot faster than if you ignore the signs of overtraining and push through the warning signs,” said Corcoran.

When it comes to running, Corcoran recommended changing your running shoes every three to six months or every 250 to 500 miles, depending on how frequently you run.

“Running is a high impact sport, so you want to make sure your body is ready for that impact and you’re loading it in a way in which it’s able to adapt properly without exposing yourself to an increased risk of injury,” she said.

You also may be interested in...

Getting creative: Reducing opioid use for returning warriors

Article
11/5/2019
Airmen of the 174th Attack Wing participate in a weekly yoga class. Classes are intended to present an alternative way for 174th members to build both mental and physical strength. Yoga is also a way to alleviate chronic pain in the body. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Duane Morgan)

With the rise in opioid-related drug abuse and death, the Military Health System looks to complementary pain management treatments

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety | Pain Management | Warrior Care

Opioid Abuse and Non-Opiate Pain Management

Congressional Testimony
7/12/2019

H.R. 6157, HAC Report for FY 2019, 115-769, Pg. 298

Recommended Content:

Opioid Safety | Pain Management

MHS Pain Scale

Fact Sheet
4/3/2019

This document provides images for a pain rating scale, from 0 to 10, along with supplemental questions.

Recommended Content:

Pain Management

6025.07

Policy

Naloxone in the Military Treatment Facilities

6025.04

Policy

Pain Management and Opioid Safety in the MHS

Update: Exertional Hyponatremia U.S. Armed Forces, 2001-2016

Infographic
4/4/2017
Update: Exertional Hyponatremia U.S. Armed Forces, 2001-2016

Exertional Hyponatremia occurs during or up to 24 hours after prolonged physical activity. It is defined by a serum, plasma or blood sodium concentration below 135 millequivalents per liter. This infographic provides an update on Exertional Hyponatremia among U.S. Armed Forces, information on service members at high risk. Exertional hyponatremia can result from loss of sodium and/or potassium as well as relative excess of body water.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Physical Fitness

Update: Exertional Rhabdomyolysis Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012 – 2016

Infographic
4/4/2017
Update: Exertional Rhabdomyolysis Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2012 – 2016

Rhabdomyolysis is characterized by the rapid breakdown of overworked intracellular muscle, skeletal muscle cells and the release of toxic fibers into the bloodstream. It is a significant threat to U.S. military members during physical exertion, particularly under heat stress. This report summarizes numbers, rates, trends, risk factors and locations of occurrences for exertional heat injuries, including exertional rhabdomyolysis for 2012-2016.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness

What is Rhabdomyolysis?

Infographic
3/21/2017
What is Rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis is the rapid breakdown of overworked muscle cells, following the release of toxic fibers into the bloodstream, causing many complications during physical exertion. This infographic provides information about the symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis, prevention and treatment.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Summer Safety

12 Days of Fitmas

Infographic
12/14/2016
12 Days of Fitmas

Want to stay in shape over the holidays, but not sure where to start? Guard Your Health has you covered with its 12 Days of Fitmas challenge – a daily dose of quick exercises you can fit into your hectic schedule! #MerryFitmas

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness

Sunrise Yoga Class

Photo
9/29/2016
Sunrise Yoga Class

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Tara Paradiso participates in a sunrise yoga class on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. If you’re thinking of adding exercise to your pain management plan, consider the following types: aerobic, strength, and flexibility. But make sure your exercise program is specifically tailored to your needs. Some exercises might be easier or more difficult to complete depending upon the type and location of your pain. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Liaghat)

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Consortium for Health and Military Performance

Flag Football Game

Photo
9/28/2016
Flag Football Game

Youth participate in a flag football game on Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck)

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Physical Fitness

Vitamin D B12 Deficiency

Photo
9/19/2016
Vitamin D B12 Deficiency

Adequate intake of B vitamins is important to ensure optimum energy production and the building of muscle tissue.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Physical Fitness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 61 - 72 Page 5 of 5
Refine your search
Last Updated: October 28, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.