"I have a question- how do you know when it's okay to work through some pain. I have a sore groin muscle, but once I get running the pain pretty much goes away. Is cutting back and extra stretching and ice okay, or is complete rest required for all aches and pains?"
Such a good question. Because of our different tolerances to pain it can be hard to determine what is too much, and when you're just being a wimp. ;) Kidding. I'm sure none of you are wimps. First, of all you need to detect when the pain started. Was it mid exercise? Was it sudden? Did you start to feel it the day after a strenuous workout? Do you feel like it was exercise related at all?
(nothing like a hairy man's leg for some photo-age, right?)
Overuse Injuries - One common way we are injured when exercising is when overuse comes in to play. Doing the same routines over and over again is a big factor here. Your body needs some variation, not only to progress, but to make sure that over usage doesn't occur. I recommend rotating muscle groups when lifting (ie: Monday...back and biceps, Wednesday...legs and shoulders, Friday...chest and triceps) This allows for adequate muscle rest and repair. Mix up your cardio. Switch up your tempo. Change is good! Over usage can lead to pulled muscles and stress fractures, both of which i've experienced, and neither of which are very fun. Be careful not to give yourself too much credit here though. unless you're doing over an hour a day of intense exercise I wouldn't rack it up to overuse.
Just plain sore - Remember that being sore is uncomfortable. It is going to hurt, and sometimes the best way to get over it is to get your muscles moving. When you're lifting weights you're literally breaking down the muscle fibers. It is in their repair and in the rebuilding process that you gain strength and muscle mass. This doesn't mean you HAVE to be sore every time you lift, but if you never are I'd up that weight or increase your difficulty level.
Instant Pain - You definitely want to be careful here. If you are mid exercise and you feel something pull, twist, twinge, in some uncomfortable way, back off. If the pain is extreme go see a Dr. and have it checked out. This is why good form is CRUCIAL. If something doesn't feel right when you're doing it...knee pain, hip pain, etc....chances are you are doing it wrong. Ask me! I'll help you fix it. If the pain isn't severe, but is still relevant I'd recommend RICE. R- Rest, I-Ice, C- Compression, H- Heat. It's the best remedy for minor sports injuries. Lay off it until you feel like it's somewhat healed, and be careful with good form from there on.
Constant Pain - This is where it gets tricky. Constant pain can come from so many different places. If you are suffering from back pain it could be a result of a lack of flexibility, causing your joints to have more pressure and tightness than necessary. STRETCH. It's important. Foam rollers can also be very helpful in this scenario. Back pain can also come from a lack of core strength. This can be remedied by building up that core strength. I'm a huge advocate of core strength. Changed my life...Seriously. Do it. I could talk about that all day, moving on. With a muscle pull, like our reader, I'd take about two weeks off from exercise that aggravates it, and apply the R.I.C.E. principle. I know, time off is the last thing you probably want to hear. BUT, it's not worth causing yourself more problematic pain in the future by worsening the problem. I wouldn't quit the exercising all together. Swimming is a great form of exercise that can be less impactful on injured muscles and joints. You can also still do resistance training with the non-injured muscles. I would also recommend taking ibuprofen for the swelling and pain. After two weeks of rest gradually get back into your normal activity level, trying to avoid extreme inclines, or speeds. Listen to your body, and make sure you're not overdoing it. If you feel like your injury still isn't healing after two weeks of rest, R.I.C.E., and ibuprofen, I would go see an orthopedic surgeon who can give you a specific diagnosis.
The BEST advice I can give you is to be preventative. Warming up, cooling down, stretching, using proper form, resting when necessary, wearing correct shoes, and varying your workout can keep you from getting injured and on the road to reaching your goals!