Is that “good” or “bad” exercise-related pain?

We’ve all been there – stiff knees after a long hike, or sore arms after a lifting session. But what can help determine if the pain felt after exercise is “good” (i.e., nothing to worry about) or “bad” (needs to be evaluated by a medical provider). How do providers guide patients when workouts have associated pain? Use the following as guidance when advising patients.

It’s “good” pain when:

  • The pain is gone in 48 hours.
  • The pain is bilateral.
  • The pain is a muscle burn or fatigue, not sharp.
  • The pain is superficial, not deep and located in a joint.
  • The pain is felt in the ‘targeted’ muscles. Example: Plank pose hurts the stomach muscles, not the low back, neck, wrist, elbow.
  • Clicking or popping in a joint without any pain. (Most of the time, movement helps chronically stiff joints.)

It’s “bad” pain when:

  • The pain is sharp.
  • The pain is felt deep in the joint.
  • The pain is felt only on one side.
  • Pain is felt with audible clicking and popping of a joint or tendon.
  • Pain is felt in areas not targeted by the exercise, for example, plank pose hurts the back, neck, elbow, wrist.