Exercise Injuries: When to Walk it Off, and When to Worry

When should you start to worry about injuries?

When should you start to worry about injuries? | Source: iStock

Effectively gauging your own injuries is an acquired skill. After all, everyone gets banged-up when we’re in the gym, and through the course of our lives. But what gets really tricky is trying to discern between a serious injury, and simply an old tick from your high school football days, or even an old surgery, flaring up and giving you grief. We’ve covered injuries before — particularly, injuries that are widespread and common in the fitness community and among gym-goers.

Generally, these can be taken care of through rest, and regular icing or heat application. Some, obviously, require more serious measures, even surgery. But for injuries in which a tendon or ligament is actually torn, or a bone is broken, it’s relatively easy to tell that something is horribly amiss.

But what we’re trying to get to the bottom of is when you can’t tell — when you’re definitely hurting, but can’t make an accurate assessment as to whether you need to rest it for a day or two, or head to the doctor’s office. And naturally, as with most things fitness-related, there is no easy answer. There are a ton of things to take into account when trying to reach a conclusion, and the truth is, it mostly comes down to knowing and listening to your body.

For starters, some people have higher pain thresholds than others — and that may be determined by a whole slew of variants, including genetic makeup. So, when trying to determine the severity of an injury, you’ll have to take into account just how much pain and discomfort you’re in, and how it’s compared to past bodily damage.

Not only that, but you’ll need to take count of past injuries that may be skewing your ability to determine a new boo boo’s severity. For example, you may have twisted your knee — but if you have had a history of knee problems, it may have done more damage to the ligaments and tendons than you suspect.

runner sitting in the grass holding a leg injury

A runner with a leg injury | Source: iStock

Secondly, take stock as to just what part of your body you’ve hurt. As you know, certain parts of the body are more likely to get injured, such as shoulders, knees, and ankles. And that’s because these are all hinge joints that see a ton of activity. The higher the level of activity, the higher the chances of sustaining an injury, as most medical professionals will say.

With that mind, if you hear a funny sound, and then experience some significant discomfort in one of your major joints, you’ve probably got a problem on your hands that will require more than some simple rest and relaxation. But again, this will come down to you having an intimate knowledge of your body’s quirks. What may seem abnormal for others can be rather routine for you.

If you’re not confident going by your own assessment of your body’s integrity (let’s face it, who is?), there has been some research done into finding a method to determine injury severity. Even as far back as 1977, researchers published studies relating to “the injury severity score”, which uses a “comparison with plasma cortisol concentrations confirmed that the method could distinguish between minor and moderate injuries.” One study, from the British Medical Journal that’s now nearly 40 years old, found that by simply looking at concentrations of plasma cortisol in injured persons, severity could quickly be determined by medical professionals.

There are further protocols for medical professionals to use, but they can easily be adopted by almost anyone to try and get a quick answer as to whether they should high-tail it to the hospital or doctor. For example, a researcher from the University of Pittsburgh put together a brief explaining that the very first assessment of scoring an injury boils down to three main factors: the extent of tissue damage, the physiological response to the injury, and host factors that mediate a response.

A man with a foot injury

A man with a foot injury | Source: iStock

What that basically means, and how you could potentially use it, is that when assessing your own injuries, take notice of any actual bodily damage (are you bleeding? Is your bone actually broken?), and note your body’s physiological response. For example, determining whether or not an appendage or joint is still functioning post-injury.

Essentially, self-diagnosis of your injuries all boils down to common sense. If you do hurt yourself, but can’t really tell how serious it is, lay off it for a few days, and ice it. If things don’t progress, make an appointment with a doctor. But if it’s obvious something is horribly wrong, don’t hesitate — get to a clinic.

More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: