Give Me The Fish (GMTF): Training is all about forward progress. Having to stop because of an injury can put you back weeks or even months. Because of this, calling yourself “injured” should not be taken lightly if you’re serious about reaching your goals. There is a big difference between being hurt or injured, and pain is not it. Injury has to do with permanent, debilitating, or physical indicators. Hurt is your body being forced to adapt to a new stimulus or minor damage that comes with the training territory. Learn the difference and prevent misdiagnosis and months of setbacks.
**Mandatory don’t sue me line of, I’m not a doctor, follow my advice at your own risk, and at the end of the day do what makes sense to you and not because a rando on the internet said so. But, this is what has worked for me and quite a few others. You do you.
Table of Contents
Quick Take Away: You might be injured if:
- There was a catastrophic event (i.e. Squat bar drove you into the ground like a nail)
- Visible signs of internal damage (like major swelling and discoloration or joint facing the wrong way).
- Your movement is restricted to where you can’t go about daily life.
- Pain is a 10 of 10
- It’s still there 4-6 weeks later and you have addressed movement pattern faults
Hurt Or Injured?
“Hey, where is Jones at.”
“He fell behind, I think he got hurt.”
“Injured or weak?” he asked
“It looked like he rolled an ankle or something”. Then with a roll of his eyes and muttering about people being weak, Staff Sergeant Stone took off running back down the road.
It was 6:00 in the morning and we’d already been running for 30 minutes.
I didn’t see either of them again until the end of the workout an hour and a half later.
Jones was being lectured on being “weak”.
From the outside, this sounds a little harsh, but that’s only because the Marine Corps is a little less politically correct than the rest of the world.
The real question that was being asked was, “are you hurt or injured”?
This question of hurt or injured would follow me for the rest of my Marine Corps career and outside of it.
What Is The Difference Between Hurt And Injured?
Sometimes it’s pretty obvious what hurt versus injured is.
I stubbed my toe. It’s not permanent and it doesn’t hinder any movements, it’s just painful.
Muscles are sore, nothing permanent, doesn’t hinder me, it’s just painful.
My leg is broken, could be permanent, definitely hinders my movements, and it is also exceptionally painful.
But what does it mean if your knee hurts?
For liability purposes, all coaches and trainers should and will recommend you to go see a doctor.
Then you are going to see a doctor and they will preach the liability answer (unless you’re lucky enough to have one who also trains hard) and they are going to say, “Take some Advil, take some Tylenol, and stay off of it for 4-6 weeks”. Or something along those lines.
Then they will probably list a series of possibilities like runner’s knee or patellar tendinitis, Iliotibial band syndrome or Osteoarthritis, or a number of other “minor injuries.”
From here, you either feel like an idiot for going to see a doctor, or you follow their advice and fall back on your training or even go back to square one.
But, away from the safe answer, the answer to if you’re hurt or injured is, it depends.
Good Rules Of Thumb
Typically, I rely on three things. Outside of a catastrophic event (your knee twists the wrong way or you drop a bar on your neck). I look for a noticeable physical sign of injury outside of normal swelling and bruising, debilitating pain (i.e. 10 of 10), or a restriction of movement.
If something’s swollen, bruised (not from a bump), bleeding (not from a scrape), or not the same shape as it was before. That’s normally a good indicator of injury.
Notice, that it has little to do with actual pain unless it prevents you from movement.
Even then, if you can still train and it wasn’t caused by a catastrophic event (see above), I still recommend to keep training, just take it easy and follow a good ramping rehab protocol (google Bill Starr rehab).
The body has an amazing ability to recover and has been doing so for tens of thousands of years.
Outside of pain killers or surgery, there isn’t much a doctor can do for you.
If they don’t tell you to take it easy, they will likely just send you to a physical therapist for strength training.
So, once again, if you’re hurt, get back to the gym (link to a good article on lower back pain and squatting).
Ok, So It’s On The Hurt Side Of Injured, Now What?
Two Words: Keep Training
If you ask a lot of runners or a lot of people that start running. You’ll find that’s very common for things like knees and ankles to hurt when you first start.
Likely because your body has to adjust to new forms of stress and those joints are not used to it yet. If you stop training because of this, you’re always going to be a ground zero.
This does not mean, that if you can barely take another step you keep running. That would violate two of the principles, one for being debilitating and two for loss of movement.
This is like a slight twinge in your knee kind of pain. If it is this, or in your shoulder or somewhere else, keep training.
Pain is also often an indicator of poor biomechanics. So, especially if you are not a newbie to training, this is a likely source.
What this means is that you don’t need to stop training, you just need to modify how you’re doing it.
Pain is also part of just being human. People often see training as just a form of getting bigger muscles or getting stronger.
But training really should just be seen as a function of being human.
Being hurt and training through is teaching yourself to be more resilient as a human.
So, while this is not the politically correct thing to say, just because you’re feeling some pain, does not mean you should not work out or train.
Sometimes we need to just embrace the pain.
Know The Difference of Being Hurt Or Injured And Reap The Rewards
It will take some time and it will take some common sense, but learning the difference between being hurt and injured is crucial to your success in the gym and out on your adventures.
Some of knowing the difference will take self-discovery on your part, and probably a little bit of risk, but that’s life and the benefits will pay dividends in the long-haul.
But if you keep training, often that pain will go away and you will be stronger in the end.
And strength normally prevents future pain, so, it’s a win-win.
Back to the liability thing. While your trainer, coach, and doctor will probably recommend you go seek medical help the second you feel any kind of pain, they are bound by legality, and by being a little more politically correct. So, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s your responsibility to understand your body, and you have the ability to be a little more blunt with yourself.
Don’t sugar coat your life, the rest of the modern world does that for you.
So next time you feel a little bit of pain, ask yourself are you feeling injured, or are you feeling weak?