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I’m a sucker for certain reality shows, and one of my favorites is The Ultimate Fighter; a competition which pits mixed martial arts (MMA) participants against each other in the hopes of securing a six figure contract with the UFC (which you can think of as the NFL of the fight game).

Personal story lines aside, one of the other compelling elements of the show is the degree and intensity of training. After all, these athletes are in a high risk, high impact sport and have to be ready for pretty much anything. As a result, their training regime and preparation is grueling, and you’ll inevitably hear fighter discuss how no one is ever truly at one hundred percent. Everyone it seems, has some varying degree and variety of injury or ailment.

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But chances you are not an ultimate fighter.

So what then, does it mean when you have pain or injury? What should you do? When is it time to say when, and when should you keep calm and carry on?

For the clients I work with, I try to get a pretty clear picture of their history, including any major injuries or conditions that affect them in any way. Stay on the planet long enough, and chances are you’ve broken a bone, tweaked a shoulder, or strained a hamstring.

The bigger factor is this: does that injury (or any new one) create any pain or limitation today? Does the client wake up pain free, and do they have full range of motion and movement in all major joints without pain or discomfort?

As simple and fundamental as that may seem, waking up and operating pain free should be the norm. So I’m always surprised to meet a new client only to discover that they’ve had a nagging issue that’s been bothering them for weeks, months, and in some cases, even years.

This photograph shows Dr. Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky examining the left hand of a male patient as part of a physical examination to test for the presence of a rheumatic disease. To test for the presence of a rheumatic disease, the physician listens to the heart and examines the joints in the hand, shoulder, and jaw. Photo from the NIAMS Image Gallery.
Dr. Raphaela Goldbach-Mansky examins the hand of a male patient as part of a physical examination to test for the presence of a rheumatic disease. Photo from the NIAMS Image Gallery.

That is not normal. And age and simply growing older are not adequate excuses for having a chronically sore elbow or low back. While time can help heal most wounds, chronic conditions usually don’t get better as we get older, they get worse; mobility decreases, limps, bad posture, and any other compensations become more pronounced.

So do a quick self assessment: Do you wake up in pain? Do your first few steps out of bed cause any discomfort in your feet, knees, ankles or hips? Do you have good hip flexion, extension, and trunk rotation, and can you move your shoulders, elbows, wrists and neck within a normal range of motion with ease? Do you take any pain relievers or anti-inflammatories? And finally, are you able to engage in all the activities you want without pain?

If you’re not in the clear on that simple checklist, it may be a good idea to find a health professional who may be able to identify any underlying issues, help ease your pain, and get you back on track to a full and healthy life.

One of the folks you may cross paths with is Gabe Molina, clinical director of Outpatient Therapy at the Physical Rehabilitation Institute. An active athlete himself, Molina has spent the last ten years as a physical therapist helping folks young and old rehab a wide range of maladies.

“When you have pain, that’s your body’s way of alerting you that there’s something askew,” says Molina. “So, in a way, pain is a good thing, in that it’s a reminder that something is wrong and you need to address the situation.”

So what should you do if you’re an active soul or weekend warrior who experiences a bit of a tweak?

Gabe Molina, clinical director of Outpatient Therapy at the Physical Rehabilitation Institute
Gabe Molina, clinical director of Outpatient Therapy at the Physical Rehabilitation Institute.

First, you need to distinguish discomfort from pain, says Molina. Discomfort may be something as simple as muscle soreness or tightness, which at times can be brought on by engaging in a new activity. But pain, well, that’s a little different. If you have a feeling that is sudden and sharp, or that you might describe as a stabbing or burning sensation, that’s more often associated with pain and/or injury, and something you may need to address more immediately. If that’s the case, a period of rest is probably not a bad idea.

“You need to be aware of what you’re doing when you experience the pain, clearly identify where it is, and pay attention to the frequency, duration, and intensity,” he says. “Take action if you notice it lingers or persists, if you notice a decrease in functional ability, and if there’s any swelling – that usually means things are getting worse and you may need to rest.”

If you suspect you have an injury, you can try icing the area for starters, which can help numb the area and decrease swelling. But if your pain persists after rest and ice for 72 hours, then it’s probably time to seek further assistance, he says.

As always, the best advice is to stay out of harms way to begin with.

“Pay attention to your body, learn movement patterns first, and use gradual progressions in your training,” says Molina. “In the event you get injured, address the issue sooner rather than later… If you treat things early, you have the chance of healing better and faster; but if you wait too long, the damage is done it may take longer to recover.”

Last but not least, think of whatever activity you engage in as a long term program with plenty of benefits, says Molina. “Whatever you do, think of it as a way of life, and something that you want to be able to continue to do for a long time to come.”

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Tom Trevino is a writer, artist and wellness coach based out of San Antonio. His column, “The Feed,” addresses health and fitness issues and dispense practical advice for San Antonians attempting to wade through the often-confusing diet and fitness world. He holds a B.A. from the University of Texas, with training and certification from the Cooper Institute. He has a fondness for dogs, the New York Times, and anything on two wheels. When he’s not writing, training, or cooking, you can find him wandering the aisles of Central Market.

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