Weight-bearing pain is a distressing malady that commonly affects the ankles, knees, hips, lower back and vertebral column. As you walk, run, bend, twist, stand up and lay down, these parts of your body can receive lots of pressure that can easily lead to pain and injury. This is especially true during exercise, when high-impact movements and added weight can take their toll. Weight-bearing pain can be a sign of joint inflammation, strained muscles or even stress fractures. It is important to understand the common causes of this pain and what can be done about it.
Weight-bearing pain in the vulnerable areas of the body is caused by overloading a joint, tendon or muscle with too much force. It could be a single event that causes a knee or ankle injury, but more often the pain arises after long-term repetition, such as thousands of running strides. Weight-bearing pain is common among the overweight because of the constant added stress on their joints and back. The same is true of those who perform high-impact cardio, like running on concrete or explosive resistance training with exercises like a clean and jerk.
Whether your pain is caused by too much exercise or too little, there are alternatives that can help you get fit and feel better. Losing weight can improve joint health, but running might be a stride in the wrong direction. Instead try non-weight-bearing cardio exercises like recumbent cycling. Swimming and rowing are effective ways to save your joints and strengthen the muscles in your back at the same time. Switching to non-weight-bearing exercise for a few weeks, especially after joint injuries, has been shown to decrease the inflammation that causes most weight-bearing pain.
If your pain is from inflammation after vigorous exercise or a long day on your feet, apply an ice pack to the joint or muscle for up to 15 minutes every hour, compress the joint lightly and rest. New shoes can also alleviate pain in your ankles, knees and hips because shoes that are old or don’t have enough padding will not protect your body as well from the impacts of walking or running. If the pain is primarily in your back, wearing a back brace during strenuous exercise may help avoid pain and injury.
If you have questions about how you might benefit from non-weight-bearing exercises or whether it is safe for you to perform them, speak to a licensed personal trainer or other professional. If you experience sharp or extreme pain during normal weight-bearing activities or if the pain does not go away, it may be a stress fracture or something more severe. Stop performing activities that trigger the pain and seek the advice of a licensed medical professional.