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5 Post-Workout Pains It's OK to Ignore


There's nothing like an intense, sweaty workout to make you feel like a million bucks—calmer, happier, and more comfortable in your skin (and your jeans). But anytime you push yourself physically, especially if it's a tougher-than-normal class or you're getting back into a routine after a hiatus, you may experience a few mild symptoms, especially if you're not properly hydrated. When should you be concerned?

"I tell my clients that the one symptom they should seek immediate attention for is any kind of chest pain or tension in the chest, arm, neck, or even back that persists for more than 20 minutes—it could indicate a heart attack," cautions Tommy Boone, PhD, MPH, board member of the American Society of Exercise Physiologists and Editor in Chief of  The Journal of Exercise Physiology.  Otherwise, here are a five exercise side effects that are okay to experience from time to time, and when to seek medical help.

Mild Nausea or Headache

If you push yourself super hard or try a new workout that's extra intense (Crossfit, anyone?) and feel mildly queasy afterwards, you may just be dehydrated. This is true of a headache as well—any head pain that occurs during a tough workout is likely a sign that you haven't had enough fluid, and it should ease once you take a good, long drink from your water bottle.

When to call your doctor: If it doesn't go away after a few hours after your workout. "You could be fighting off an illness like the flu, and exerting yourself has brought the symptoms to the forefront," says Jason Karp, PhD, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer.

Facial Redness

This is more of a vanity concern than a physical one, but it can still be alarming to catch a glimpse of your beet red face post-spin class. The cause: increased blood flow to the skin as your body tries to cool itself. This is particularly true if you're indoors and the ventilation is poor or the room is extra hot, resulting in even more blood flow and an even redder face. But it will go away on its own when you cool down and your body has no further need to send all that extra blood to the skin's surface, Karp says.

When to call your doctor: For redness that only occurs during exercise, there's no real medical reason it won't clear up on its own. But if it occurs when you're not exerting yourself, you may want to see a dermatologist. It could indicate a skin condition like Rosacea or be the result of sun damage.

A Head Rush or Mild Lightheadedness

When you work out full throttle you send blood to all those muscles—and away from your head, according to Karp. Since the brain is one of the most important organs, it typically takes what it needs, but a difficult workout can draw enough blood away that you get a head rush or feel lightheaded. If this happens, stop right away and bend over like you see professional athletes—they're trying to get their brain closer to their heart to improve blood flow.

When to call your doctor: If the feeling doesn't go away after 30 to 60 minutes. If you don't feel normal again after an hour, there may be something else going on that a medical professional needs to diagnose.

Charlie Horse (Muscle Cramp)

This typically happens when you've over-fatigued a muscle. If you feel it mid-workout, stop and try to massage it out. If you still feel it afterward, try heat to loosen the muscle up—but skip ice, which can make the muscle tense up even further.

When to call your doctor: If the muscle still stays clenched for hours (or a day) after your workout—you may need to see a physical therapist to work out the knot.

Mild Cramping

The first thing you need to do is identify the source—is it uterine, intestinal, or a side stitch? When you're mid-workout it may not always be obvious. Since women can experience some mild menstrual cramping even before their period, calculate the time of the month, then hone in on the sensation; most of us can easily differentiate uterine cramping from any other kind once we pay attention. Then take an OTC pain reliever after you cool down. Side stitches, on the other hand, typically occur during or after an up and down movement, like running, which tugs at the connective tissues that hold the organs in place; slow down and massage the area, which usually makes the pain go away. If it's intestinal in origin: well, you probably need to go to the bathroom.

When to call your doctor: If the pain gets much worse or sharper—and doesn't seem to originate from any of three categories above. In extreme cases, it could indicate appendicitis (though exercise won't necessarily bring this on).