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Soreness vs Pain. What’s the difference?

There are many benefits to exercise, including the potential for improved physical and mental well being. Exercise improves sleep, helps you maintain strong muscles and bones, and also helps prevent or improve many chronic conditions.

Along with the benefits, though, you can expect some discomfort after pushing your body to do more than usual. When you exercise, you are putting healthy stress on your heart, lungs, muscles, and bones to gain strength or endurance. This good stress can cause normal muscle soreness and fatigue. It's a sign that you did something to improve your health and strength. Pain is an unhealthy and abnormal response. Experiencing pain may be indicative of an injury.

Here's how to tell the difference between muscle soreness and pain, plus some tips for managing both.

Muscle Soreness

Exercise soreness sometimes results from starting to use muscles that you have not used stressfully in a long time. This is called delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. This soreness is a result of small, non-harmful "tearing/stress" on these unused muscle fibers. As the body repairs these small tears, muscles become stronger. Short-term muscle soreness is a healthy and expected result of exercise. Normal muscle soreness and fatigue peak between 24 and 72 hours after a muscle-stressing activity, and should go away on its own after a few days.

What To Do if You Have Muscle Soreness

During the recovery period, while you have soreness, it is important to:
1. Give the muscles you worked time to recover.
You are more likely to get injured if you continue with the same intensity and type of exercise too soon. More intense and lengthy activities, such as running a marathon, can take over a month to fully recover.
2. Stay active and keep moving until the soreness decreases or goes away.
DOMS often improves with easy stretching and light movement. Total rest can increase soreness. While recovering, consider doing a different exercise or do your activity at a lower intensity or for less time during the first few days of soreness.
3. Vary your activities.
Work your legs, arms, and whole body on alternate days. This will help you keep moving and strengthen other muscles while allowing the sore ones to rest.


In contrast to muscular soreness, injury pain usually occurs in a specific body part, like a tendon or a joint. It can be more intense and more constant than muscle soreness. It may vary from a constant "ache" (even without movement) or you may feel sharp pain during movement or exercise, or afterward with a particular movement, and can keep you awake at night. With pain, your joints or muscles may become very stiff if you rest or sit for a long time. This pain you experience may not go away on its own.
Pain also can change how you move. If you limp because of pain or favor one shoulder over the other, it may be a sign of an injury.

What To Do if You Have Pain

1. Stop any painful activities and change what you do.
Ice can provide short-term relief for pain caused by inflammation.
2. Don't push through the pain.
Pushing through pain can cause the problem to get worse and lead to further
3. Seek help from a health care provider.
If you have pain that doesn't go away, even after 7 to 10 days, see your doctor or
physical therapist for a diagnosis and treatment.

How to Make Progress

Each person has a different capacity to do sports and exercise, make sure to increase your physical activity and exercise safely and slowly over time. When staying within a safe activity threshold, you should only experience normal muscle soreness. Each person's activity threshold depends upon many factors, such as:

 - Age.
 - Technique.
 - How strong you are.
 - Your regular activities.

For example, when a person first begins a walking or running program, a safe activity threshold may be walking or running for five minutes. After several weeks of slow, progressive increases in duration, the safe threshold may increase to 20-30 minutes. Going beyond the safe activity threshold too soon can result in an injury or pain.

To improve your activity threshold and overall fitness safely, make sure you:

 - Only add new activities or increase your intensity, distance, speed, or resistance little by little. Too much too soon can cause injury.
 - Begin slowly after time away from a sport or activity. If you return to an activity after an injury or time off, your activity threshold may be lower. Don't try to restart the activity at your previous level right away. Gradually return to the intensity, distance, and duration of exercise prior to taking a break.
 - Recovery time is important between intense activities. It’s more beneficial to start slow
and steady, and progress gradually, rather than pushing yourself too hard too quickly.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Even if you don't have an injury, our physical therapists can assess your strengths and weaknesses, and can work with you to improve your performance in daily activities and sports. They develop safe and progressive exercise programs to help you reach your goals and teach you the best ways to prevent injuries in the future.
Physical therapists are movement experts who diagnose and treat movement problems. They help people address and manage pain and improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement.

Click Here To have one of our Physical Therapists help you out.

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