How to Listen to Your Body
Learning to listen to your body is an important skill to have. It helps you know when to push harder, when to rest, and when you might need to change how you train. This skill will help you prevent injuries and stay active throughout your lifetime.
Below is a list of signals you might feel, hear, or see. For each, you’ll see a description with a recommendation.
Aching refers to dull, low-level, persistent pain. Usually, you feel aching when your body is at rest, and it feels better when you get moving. Aching means that a muscle, ligament, or tendon is contracted, or you could have nerve impingement. Resist the temptation to ignore your aches.
Your muscles may have lost circulation due to contraction, usually in extremities such as feet and hands. You need to get moving. Open the area up with a massage, rolling, or active stretching.
Fatigue is the manifestation of the body’s inability to continue to function. It could be general fatigue, a symptom of poor nutrition or a medical condition, or, when localized, a sign of muscle overuse. If you are very active, you need to allow for recovery: get rest, nutrition, and hydration, and increase your flexibility. If rest doesn’t relieve the fatigue, see a healthcare professional. See a healthcare professional if it is localized and you can’t tie the fatigue to a specific cause.
A muscle, tendon, or ligament may slip over a boney prominence or a hypermobile joint. If there is no pain, don’t worry. If there is pain, you need a medical evaluation to determine whether nature’s design has a flaw or you have become so tight in a joint that you are pulling out of alignment, causing the flip. Loosen up the joint with rolling, flexibility, and strength training.
You may have a torn muscle microscopically, or the heat could result from metabolic waste or lactic acid buildup after intense activity. Infection or trauma with swelling is also possible. Any body part that feels hot requires your attention.
Individual muscle fibers have torn and realigned randomly in little clumps. You can self-massage them to break them up and help them realign. Then you need to initiate a strength and flexibility program.
Lumpiness in muscle tissue is when there are inconsistencies in the muscle fibers. You need a strength and flexibility program. (We see this most frequently in the lower back, at the top of the pelvis.)
Pain is the most straightforward, most articulate communication your body can send. It means, “Something is wrong!” The stronger the signal, the louder the message. Avoid the temptation to ignore the signal or mask it with painkillers before you know the source of the pain. Pay attention.
Reverberation refers to the aftershock of a released adhesion or flipping. No problem.
A nerve is suddenly impinged by a muscle passing over, under, or pressing against it. This is generally not a problem. If it recurs, isolate the muscle and unlock the tension in the impinged area. Restore flexibility and range of motion.
The muscle is in contraction. A spasm will feel like “waves” of contraction rather than the “death grip” characterized by a cramp. Immediately fire/contract the opposite muscle and gently stretch out (or roll/massage) the spasming muscle with an assist at the end range of the stretch. The goal is to relax the muscle that is in spasm.
The muscle is irritated, causing constriction of blood flow. The source could be physical or emotional. Tension is generally not a problem but can damage the musculoskeletal system's compensation patterns over time. Relax.
Blood flow is constricted, or a nerve is impinged, interfering with neurological transmission to that area. Tingling has the potential to shut the whole area down. You need to find the source of impingement and alleviate it. First, try unlocking with active stretching or rolling. If that doesn’t work, seek medical attention.
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are tight. Loosen up. A joint might not have enough fluid, so it is not well lubricated. If pain accompanies the creaking, seek attention from a healthcare practitioner.
A tight muscle pulls the joint and compresses the bones on either side of the joint. Gristing could be the sound of irregularities of the articular cartilage, which could eventually lead to irritation.
Rule of thumb: If the pop hurts, check it out. It could be a bone breaking or a muscle pull. It could be the sound of an adhesion releasing or a musculoskeletal adjustment if it doesn't hurt.
Bruising is a leakage of blood from a trauma such as an external blow or an internal tear. Pay attention.
Fluid may accumulate when your body cannot flush sufficiently. Swelling could also be a sign of infection, a symptom of trauma or injury, where the body rushes to the site with fluid for protection and flushes out waste material; or an accumulation of blood deep in the muscle. You need to pay attention to this.
This is more extreme than feeling a tingling sensation. Blood flow is constricted, or a nerve is impinged, shutting down neurological transmissions to that area. If it is a fleeting condition, it is no problem. You need to seek medical attention if it recurs or lasts more than a few minutes.
Cramping happens when a muscle is severely contracted. Common causes are dehydration, overuse, or inactivity. Relax the area by firing the opposite muscle and stretching the cramped one.
The blood supply to your brain is inadequate. Focus on maintaining consciousness and avoiding hitting the ground. Lie down and elevate your feet. Or, sit down and put your head between your knees. If you can’t figure out what caused it or if it recurs, seek medical attention.
Grinding is the sound of bone on bone, particles floating in fluid, or a muscle, tendon, or ligament sliding over bone. If there is no pain, don’t worry. If there is pain, you need a medical evaluation to determine whether nature’s design has a flaw or you have become so tight in a joint that you are pulling out of alignment, causing the grinding. Loosen up the joint with rolling, flexibility, and strength training.
You might experience itchiness if your muscles are unaccustomed to the blood flow to the muscles that happens with exercise. It subsides after the muscles cool down. Unless you see a rash, this is not a problem.
LACK OF COORDINATION
The body cannot receive or react to neurological signals. This could be caused by genetics, dehydration, exhaustion, vascular accidents, or neurological disorders. If the onset of lack of coordination is sudden, you should seek medical attention immediately.
When a muscle is weak and lacks integrity, it might feel mushy. You need a strength and flexibility program.
The muscle has “shorted out” and is experiencing rapid, continuous firing. Quivering is frequently the result of intense fatigue; it could also be an early warning sign of muscle cramping. Relieve the tension with rolling, active stretching, and rest. Make sure you are hydrated.
When you hear a rip, it could be something tearing. If it’s accompanied by pain, have it evaluated immediately; connective tissue or fascia around the muscle could be stretching.
Your diaphragm muscles cramp or contract under your ribcage. It happens when you breathe too hard, and your diaphragm has to work harder to keep up with the expanding and contracting of your lungs. Some people have problems eating or drinking too heavily before working out. No problem. Relieve it by taking slow, deep, full breaths. Lift your arms over your head (yes, you can do this while exercising) and extend them behind your head as far as you can get them. Doing this will open up your chest and allow you to bring in more oxygen.
Pain is your body’s clear signal that something is damaged and needs protection or attention. Tenderness is low-level pain.
The area is constricted and sensitive, and you can feel the blood flow as a “pulse.” If the throbbing is accompanied by swelling (and it generally is), seek medical attention.
A bone could be a little bit out of joint, caused possibly by tight muscles pulling the joint out of alignment. Clicking is usually not a big problem, and active stretching combined with rolling can help.
Usually found in the neck, hands, and feet, calcification forms around the joints of the muscle attachments. Crunches are not a problem, but they are early signs that you need to keep those joints moving and maintain a good joint range of motion.
If a pop happens in trauma, it could mean a muscle tear or detachment that requires your immediate attention. If it’s followed by minor swelling, it could be a ligament pull, tear, or detachment. If significant swelling follows the pop, it could be a muscle.
See a healthcare professional if pain accompanies the snap or if you can’t bear weight on that joint. The snap could be a bone fracture, a sprain, or a tendon tearing loose. Otherwise, it could simply be an adhesion release.
Blood has rushed to the surface after strenuous exercise or following trauma. If it is exercise-induced, it will go away when you cool down. Pay attention if it is from trauma accompanied by pain that doesn’t go away.