Possible Reasons You Might Be Feeling Those Little Twinges With Your Exercise Routine
by Dr. Tamer Issa, PT, DPT
When it comes to exercise, people are learning to adapt. They’re starting new exercise programs online or on their own and changing their existing exercise routines given the current circumstances. This is a good thing… in theory.
What’s the problem you might ask? Starting to exercise and changing up an exercise routine is good right? Yes, it is good to do both of those things, especially if you are trying to become healthier through exercise. The issue is the problems that it starts to uncover.
This is what I am noticing as people embark on new exercise routines from home. “I tweaked my neck doing a shoulder exercise with a resistance band”, “I felt a little give in my knee while I was running”, “I felt a little twinge in my back while I was doing my core exercises”. This is what I mean by “little twinges”. It’s not pain or an injury, just little things that you feel are fleeting. Most of the time they are largely unnoticed, but when they become more frequent or start to cause some discomfort then it usually is a sign of something starting to become a problem.
Most of the time, not always, when people develop pain related to muscles, tendons, joints, nerves, etc it is due to overloading of tissue over time. Now, I’m not talking about trauma, that is a different story altogether. I’m talking about things like tendonitis, trigger points, joint inflammation, spinal disc issues, signs of instability (clicking/popping), etc. This tends to be gradual with an unclear onset. Most of the time it’s due to an imbalance between load and capacity.
We need to understand this first before we can look at some of the underlying reasons. Let’s make it simple. If the capacity meets the load, no problems. If the load exceeds the capacity, then we may have problems due to breakdown, tissue irritability, nerve sensitivity, etc. Let’s take a look at a few examples of this as it relates to exercise.
Very simply, you are overdoing it. Examples: you used to run 3 miles a week and now you are running 15. You started high-intensity cardio, aerobic, or dance workout 5 days a week when you had been doing none. You are strength training too many days in a row without recovery time. Try ramping up slowly over time. This will give your body a chance to recover and adapt to the new challenges.
Not all exercise is created equal. For example, your previous routine involved primarily running and now you have added upper body strength training and tweaked your shoulder. You’ve been doing yoga for years and now you have added a walking or running routine and your knee is starting to give. You’ve been used to doing strength training exercises at the gym using machines and now you are at home using your body weight or free weights and your back is starting to stiffen up. Different exercise routines have different demands. Your body’s physical capacity (flexibility, stability, strength, endurance, etc.) needs to be assessed and addressed to see if they are able to meet those specific demands of the exercise.
Sometimes the load is not the issue, sometimes it’s the lack of capacity. There are a number of factors involved in movement dysfunction that may be predisposing you to pain and dysfunction. A few examples of risk factors include a leg length discrepancy, poor breathing function, a weak core, poor coordination, unstable feet, weak hips, unstable shoulders, and poor posture just to name a few. If you can identify and address your own physical vulnerabilities, you can minimize your risk for injury.
Sometimes these little twinges resolve on their own because the body adapts but this isn’t always the case. How will you know? If you feel they are happening more frequently or are associated with some discomfort or pain during or after exercise, then you may have a problem. What should you do about it? Get help to figure out the underlying causes. Obviously, a physical therapist can help with that, but a personal trainer, coach, or another professional may be able to help.
If this at all sounds familiar to you, don’t despair… you did the right thing by choosing to exercise. The key is to not continue doing things the way you have been doing them hoping that it will go away or won’t be an issue someday. You will save yourself a lot of time, energy, and money getting to the bottom of it sooner than dealing with a problem that is bigger later.