What is wrong with my arm?
January 13, 2006 9:23 AM   Subscribe

What is wrong with my arm?

Per my wife's encouragement and the fact my waist has migrated to the last hole in my belt, I recently joined a gym. I did an initiatory couple of sets on the Arm/Chest/Back Nautilus machines on Wednesday. Although I am fairly strong, I only did about 20 reps total. I lifted just two or three of the weight plates to get the feel for the machine, far less than the maximum weight I can actually lift.

When I woke up yesterday, my left arm on the inner side of my elbow and upper inner forearm hurt. It hurts even more today. I can't straighten out my arm completely without it hurting, although if I force myself long enough the pain gradually subsides.

Is this the sign of something torn or screwed up? Or just the result of not exercising in a while?
posted by MasonDixon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total)
Muscle mass has to be destroyed for it to build back up, bigger than it was before. Parts of your body being destroyed, that hurts the next day. And possibly the day after.
posted by jon_kill at 9:25 AM on January 13, 2006

Yeah, that's normal if you haven't done curls in a while. How does your right arm feel?
posted by nicwolff at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2006

It is likely just the fact you have not worked out in awhile. It happens to me on such occasions also. Aside from looking like a wincing tool anytime you have to lift your arm there shouldn't be any lasting effects. Just give it a couple days and remember to ease yourself into any exercise routine gradually.

Also, always, always stretch. That, combined with a very light warm up of the activity you plan on doing (think benching 60lbs a few times before loading up the real weight) will also aid in not being sore.
posted by Anizev at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2006

Even after taking a short break (well, a holiday break of a few weeks where I got all flabby) from working out, getting back into the weight-lifting really stressed my arms out. Like...it-hurt-to-touch-my-triceps stressed out. It got worse a couple days after the workout, too.

But it will (or should) go away. Fluids and asprin helped out. If it doesn't go away...then, something is not normal.
posted by tpl1212 at 9:34 AM on January 13, 2006

Is this the sign of something torn or screwed up? Or just the result of not exercising in a while?
posted by MasonDixon to sports, hobbies, & recreation at 9:23 AM PST

99% certainty it's the latter. If you haven't done weight training in a while, it's probably not in your best interest to start with isolation exercises like curls. Your biggest gains are always always always at the beginning, so I recommend large, compound, free-weight movements instead; the pain will not be as intense and spot-specific, your stabilizer muscles will be worked harder, and your muscle gain and fat loss will be much more efficient.

Jumping in to a weight program and just training chest and arms is for frat boys. Talk to a personal trainer about a full-body or split program, and don't ignore the lower body. Squats and deadlifts will increase overall muscle-building efficiency because your quadriceps are fucking gigantic compared to the tiny, tiny biceps.

Oh, and always stretch before and after.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2006

Recent-ish University studies have debunked the idea that stretching prevents injury, though they didn't take a firm stance on it reducing pain. However they were unequivocal on the matter that you needed an aerobic warmup, and that's something that will improve blood flow everywhere, not just the areas you stretch.

As far as that area, it sounds like you may have done some of those exercises while relying too much on the strength in your wrist - those are the muscles that move most when you curl your wrist. If you strained them and they're inflamed and shortened that would account for your stiffness when extending your arm.

If those control muscles are the ones that are causing you the most issue, you might want to try using weight machines that let you push with your whole forearm, not just your hands. Use some very light weights (even soup cans) at home on off-days to tone up those wrist-curls.
posted by phearlez at 9:40 AM on January 13, 2006

P.S. I am not a doctor or personal trainer; talk to them before deciding on a training plan that's right for you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:41 AM on January 13, 2006

Recent-ish University studies have debunked the idea that stretching prevents injury

I find that a stretching ritual before weightlifting prepares the CNS for heavy work; any other benefits are just gravy.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:43 AM on January 13, 2006

This is common for people who don't warm-up before a work out.

It is extremely important to warm up your muscles before heavy weight training.

Pain is the guaranteed result if you don't.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 9:54 AM on January 13, 2006

I hoped it was just my arm breaking in, but it hurt enough that I was not sure. It is my non-dominant arm.

I was just a little concerned because working out my lower body and abdomen left me with only a "pleasant" level of soreness.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:57 AM on January 13, 2006

Before any lifting, you should spend 10 mins warming up - either riding a stationary bike, running (or fast walking) on a treadmill, or the like. Break a little sweat before you start throwing iron around.

Try to vary your workout; alternate upper and lower body on consecutive days, don't overdo it at first, and concentrate more on the form you use to lift rather than the amount of weight you can lift.

Most importantly, stick with it - working out is a lot of fun, if you do it regularly, and you'll see the benefits before too long.
posted by pdb at 10:12 AM on January 13, 2006

Warming up is for losers. Really.

If you can do 20 reps, then it's a warm up, btw.

Fundamentally, warming up 1) drains your body of the sugar it needs to hit 80% of your max, which is where you need to be lifting to get huge; 2) stretching before exercise increased the rate of injury in the elderly, so like, don't do it even if you aren't elderly; 3) cardio is for clowns; 4) while acceleration is an import aspect of weight lifting, I would get back into the swing of things before I started messing with that. Do your set of six per body part and call it a day.

While I apologize (it's been a long week) for the obviously irreverent tone and snarkiness of my comments, I'm serious about them.
posted by ewkpates at 11:42 AM on January 13, 2006

I noticed once that if I worked out a little the next day the muscle pain went away.
posted by any major dude at 12:17 PM on January 13, 2006

Well, I'll be damned.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:42 PM on January 13, 2006

I'll go against the grain here and say it sounds more like an injury than normal post-workout soreness. The severity and sharpness of the pain and that it's in a very specific spot on only one side and that it's getting worse make me suspicious. I've no credentials to wave around other than that I do strength training and have never felt the way you describe after working out, either when I started or when I've added a new exercise/machine to my routine, and I'm likely older than you. I'd have it looked at if it continued to get worse or if it failed to get better within a day or so.
posted by TimeFactor at 1:11 PM on January 13, 2006

I've strained that tendon a bunch of times doing curls - super painful, not particularly dangerous, in my experience. My understanding is that it generally happens as a result of hyperextending the elbow - just make sure you're not locking that joint, and you should be ok in the future. (IANAPT)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:44 PM on January 13, 2006

One reason you warm up is to get maximum blood flow to the muscles. I do ten minutes on a rower at the gym before I lift and my weight training works a lot better when I do.
posted by konolia at 2:42 PM on January 13, 2006

Well, as to getting worse, the soreness that comes when you first work out is delayed-onset muscle soreness, and it usually peaks 24 to 72 hours after the workout.

This could be a tendon strain, too, but in general, getting worse at first is not neccessarily injury.
posted by dame at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2006

Oh man. I was thinking of posting like this exact question because I just started weightlifting in school (which I did not sign up for, BTW- damn schedule constraints). Like, this exact pain in the exact place with the exact same... everything. That's crazy. I just chalked it up to being a wimpy high school girl. I do feel better now, a few days later, though. It helped me to extend my arm and keep it that way; keeping my arm closed was less painful short term but the pain was worse when I needed to use that arm.
posted by MadamM at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2006

It sounds like a strain/tear to me. Use ice on it for the first 24-48 hours to discourage inflammation, then in the 3rd day postinjury start using some heat to promote healing. Start an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen now, 2-3 200 mg tablets three times a day for a week; if that upsets your stomach, use some Pepcid.
No more strength training until the pain is completely gone, plus 2-3 more days.
posted by neuron at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2006

Make a tight fist and move it back and forth. Does that make the area hurt more?

It sounds like medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow). You were probably not holding your wrist straight, especially since it's your nondominant hand. That strains the tendons in the inside part of your elbow.

Fix it with rest and ibuprofen.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:55 AM on January 14, 2006

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