Soreness vs Pain: What’s The Difference?

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Soreness vs Pain: What’s The Difference?

At some stage of your life, you may have had a little pain in your shoulder or back or knee. The important thing to notice the type of pain this is so we can help get you back on track without making things worse. In most cases, exercise is medicine for pain! Because of the lack of movement and blood flow in the joints, it can cause pain. It can also be due to the lack of muscle that supports the joints. This is why exercise is very important for your lifestyle.

When experiencing discomfort, it is important to understand the difference. Is it exercise-related muscular soreness or pain? Muscular soreness is a healthy and expected result of exercise. Pain may be indicative of injury.

But pain is personal, and the degree of injury does not always equal the degree of pain. Also, different people have different pain tolerance. Understanding pain is helpful for managing pain.

Individual Activity Threshold

To make physical improvements, your body needs to challenge to an appropriate level. This is where gains can occur.

Each person’s body has a different activity threshold. This is dependent upon many factors, including age, baseline strength, and participation level. Remaining on the safe side of your threshold will result in muscular soreness. Exceeding your threshold will result in pain.

When done right, your exercise threshold should show a slow increase. For example, when an individual begins running, their safe threshold may be 5 minutes. By a couple of months of slow increases in duration, this threshold may increase to 20-30 minutes.

It is important to be realistic about your activity threshold to reduce injury risk. This is also the case to be able to differentiate between moderate muscle soreness and pain.

Soreness vs. Pain: How to Tell the Difference

The chart below highlights the key differences between muscle soreness and pain.

 

Muscle Soreness

Pain

Type of discomfort:

Tender when touching muscles, tired or burning feeling while exercising, minimal dull, tight and achy feeling at rest

Ache, sharp pain at rest or when exercising

Onset:

During exercise or 24-72 hours after activity

During exercise or within 24 hours of activity

Duration:

2-3 days

May linger if not addressed

Location:

Muscles

Muscles or joints

Improves with:

Stretching, following movement, and/or more movement, with appropriate rest and recovery

Ice, rest, and more movement, except in cases of significant injury

Worsens with:

Sitting still

Continued activity after appropriate rest and recovery

Appropriate action:

Get moving again, after appropriate rest and recovery, but consider a different activity before resuming the activity that led to soreness

Consult with a medical professional if the pain is extreme or lasts >1-2 weeks

Muscle Soreness

After activity, muscular soreness peaks 24-72 hours after activity. This is the result of small, safe damage to muscle fibers. During this time, your muscles may be tender to touch and feel tight and achy. Movement may be uncomfortable at first. Once moving and stretching your muscles, it will help to decrease soreness. It is important to change up movements in the gym, to give super sore muscles a rest.

Pain

Compared to muscular soreness, you may experience pain during or after performing exercise. This may feel sharp. This pain may linger without going away, sometimes even after a period of rest. This may be indicative of an injury. Pushing through injury can worsen the problem. If you feel that your pain is extreme or is not resolving after 7-10 days you should ask a medical professional.

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