A Pop, Pus, or Pain? 10 Instances When You Need to See a Doctor

Peter Griffin holding his knee in pain

You don’t want to be like Peter Griffin. | Fox

Injuries and exercise: They’re two peas in a pod. If you’re a gym rat, runner, bodybuilder, or athlete of any kind, you’ve likely run into more than a few of your own. The fact is, when we work out or exercise, we’re stressing our bodies. While we’re more or less designed to take a certain amount of physical punishment, things can go wrong. We can land awkwardly, twist or pull something that we shouldn’t, or simply just push too hard.

When we do that, we’re doing significant damage — sometimes irreversible damage. But there are a lot of people who push through the pain. Discomfort comes hand in hand with exercise and some people just don’t want to stop. Or, perhaps they can’t tell the difference between a serious injury and the pain associated with fatigue. Since everyone experiences varying levels of soreness after exercise, how do you know when the issue goes deeper than that?

Some injuries are obvious. A bone might be sticking out of an appendage, for example. Or maybe putting any kind of weight on a leg causes you to collapse. In those cases, it’s clear something’s wrong and you need to get to a doctor. Other injuries are more subtle — they manifest quietly and stick around for awhile. In these cases, you may not know you’re doing a lot of damage to your body or that you need to go see a medical professional to adequately heal.

Here are 10 things to look out for if you’re trying to discern a serious injury from standard soreness or minor aches.

1. You heard or felt a ‘pop’ or ‘snap’

A piece of burnt popcorn

A pop sound is almost always a sign of an injury. | iStock.com

If you’re working out and feel a pop or snap, WebMD says to take that as a very bad sign. While it may not mean you’ve sustained a serious injury, your body isn’t designed to produce snapping or popping sounds. There’s a chance you’ve injured a ligament, muscle, bone, or just about any other tissue in your body. If you’re feeling pain after hearing or feeling an odd pop, see a doctor.

2. Pain kicks in during exercise

A man experiencing knee pain

If it hurts to workout, stop. | iStock.com

Exercise can be painful and cause injuries. An easy way to identify an injury related to exercise is to see if a specific motion, lift, or eactivity actually triggers a pain response, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. If lifting a dumbbell in a specific way sets off alarm bells or any other specific kind of action or motion, that’s your signal to lay off. If you find there’s no improvement with time, see a specialist.

3. Pain lasts for days

A woman dealing with a nagging injury

A nagging injury deserves a trip to the doctor. | iStock.com/SIphotography

Soreness and fatigue will slowly fade away with time. But pain related to more serious injuries is going to stick around. If pain or discomfort in a specific area of your body remains while soreness elsewhere erodes, you may be facing a more serious injury. Take it easy, and see if things improve — if not, notice what triggers the pain, and if need be, see a doctor.

4. Pain is sharp and localized

Man dealing with knee pain

A sharp pain is a sign that the injury may be serious. | iStock.com

Is your pain unmistakably concentrated in one area? Localized, sharp pains are your body’s way of telling you exactly where the problem is, Neuroscience Online says. This is one of the easiest ways to tell a real injury apart from soreness or fatigue related to regular exercise. Soreness is more of a broad, dull sensation. An injury is more likely to produce an acute, sharp pain. If your body is sending you the signals, don’t ignore them.

5. A wound won’t heal

Man with his hand tied up

An injury should eventually heal. | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The most obvious and clear sign your pain is related to more than just fatigue? It won’t go away or get better. This is basically the dictionary definition of “nagging” when referring to injuries. By continuing to exercise, you may be making the problem worse. If you find that the pain is recurring or that a wound simply won’t heal, make an appointment with the doctor.

6. A wound smells or is draining

hand wound caused by an accident

Always see a doctor if something funky is coming out of your wound. | iStock.com/wissanu01

If you have a wound that is not only refusing to heal, but also expelling some nasty byproducts, get it checked out. This may include weird smells or drainage, Advanced Tissue explains. Pus, blood, and all kinds of other gross things may be involved. This should be a big red flag that something is wrong and that you probably have an infection. Don’t you dare go back to the gym — get it taken care of.

7. It’s keeping you up at night

A man catches up on some reading due to sleep struggles

See a doctor if your injury has you losing sleep. | iStock.com

If you let nagging injuries linger, they’re going to get worse. If you absolutely refuse to seek treatment, eventually, they’re going to alter your habits and routines. That includes your sleep cycle, WebMD reminds. If the pain is keeping you awake — even if you can manage it with medication — take that as a sign that you should see a doctor.

8. You notice swelling or bruising

A man with arthritis who is experiencing pain from swollen joints because of inflammation

If your bump or bruise won’t go away additional treatment may be needed. | iStock.com

There’s a reason that they call them “bumps and bruises.” If you get beat up in the gym or iduring a game, bumps and bruises are natural outcomes. What you need to be on the lookout for; however, is inflammation and swelling, particularly in your joints and sensitive areas, Nationwide Children’s Hospital says. Swelling can be a sign that your bumps are more serious and may require more attention than just ibuprofen and an ice pack.

9. Your pain level is above a ‘six’

Lying down and sad

Never put up with unbearable pain. | iStock.com/Marjan_Apostolovic

Bruises, scrapes and sore muscles will bother you to a degree. But a serious injury? That’ll send shockwaves of pain through your body — and that’s a big clue. When you see a doctor, they might ask you to rate your pain levels on a scale of one to 10. If you’re getting over a five, you’re entering serious injury territory. You probably already knew there was something wrong before consulting the pain scale, though.

10. You’ve given up on a specific body part

Man holding his hand in pain

You should be able to use all of your body parts. | iStock.com

If your level of pain has forced you to drastic action — or lack of action — you can bet it’s time to see a doctor. You’ll definitely have days where soreness or fatigue has you waddling around a room or favoring one arm over the other. But if you’ve grown accustomed to avoiding using a specific body part due to recurring pain, there’s probably something wrong. The longer you put off a doctor’s appointment, the worse it’s going to get.