Sore vs Pain: How to Know When Your Workout Is Hurting Not Helping
by AZ Pain Doctors, on Dec 30, 2020 1:36:00 PM
Sometimes, in the midst of a workout, there’s a split-second “Oh no!” moment when you feel a snap, pop, or sharp pain that signals you’ve moved the wrong way or gone too far.
In those cases, the next steps are easy: deal with the pain, ice the area, and see a doctor. But what happens during all of those other times when an injury doesn’t raise a red flag? What happens when the adrenaline presses you forward, and you continue your workout without even knowing the damage you’ve caused?
The resulting sensation can leave you wondering whether what you feel in your muscles is sore vs. pain. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to take a step back and reconsider your workout pain. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between good pain and bad pain and what to do about each.
Working Within Your Activity Threshold
Let’s start by talking about your individual activity threshold. As you work to create a stronger and fitter version of your body, you’re working within a personal threshold for how much activity is “too much.”
Reaching toward this threshold is where physical gains will occur, as long as you stay on the safe side of the line. Crossing over that threshold, however, is where injury and pain can take place. Being realistic about your abilities can help you play it safe and experience more good pain over bad pain.
Each person’s activity threshold is different, as it will vary depending on factors like your age and current strength. Only you can know how far you can go before crossing your activity threshold. The more activity you do, the more aware you’ll become of your limits—so listen to your body as you go.
Now that you know a little more about where both types of pain occur in terms of your physical limits let’s take a look at a few important differences between both types of workout pain.
Physical Sensations of Sore vs. Pain
While it may seem like all body pain must be equal, most people can tell the difference between the sensation of bad pain and good pain.
Good pain, or muscle soreness, often occurs as tenderness around muscles you’ve worked during your exercise. You may also have a sense of mild burning while you’re working out, as well as a tight or dull aching feeling when you’re resting.
An injury, on the other hand, will present as sharp, stabbing, or deep pangs that happen at rest or when you’re working out. This type of pain is often more pronounced than soreness, and it’s a key sign that something more serious is wrong.
Location of Soreness vs. Injury
As you might expect, muscle soreness should only occur within the muscles. This soreness happens as a result of the micro-trauma you’re causing during exercise. Your muscle will then repair the trauma by creating stronger muscular connections.
An injury may happen within the muscles, especially if you’ve overworked or torn a muscle. However, joint pain can also be a sign of a more serious injury, so it’s worth noting any aches that happen outside of the muscles you’ve worked.
Healing Timeline for Muscle Soreness vs. an Injury
After a good workout, you can expect your muscle soreness to peak between 25 to 48 hours after your exercise. Lingering sensations may last for up to three days, depending on the intensity of your workout. This soreness should also ease up when you warm up muscles during another stretching session or workout.
If the soreness doesn’t fade on its own after a few days, you may have a more serious problem on your hands. Pain from an injury may not fade when you jump into your next workout, and it’s a key sign that you should stop and rest instead of pressing on.
There’s no specific healing timeline for bad pain, as it may either go away on its own with rest or remain in place until you’ve addressed the cause.
Improvement for Muscle Soreness vs. Serious Injury
When it comes to muscle soreness, you’ll usually find that the issue improves even as you go about your everyday life. For more serious soreness from an intensive exercise regimen, you can follow up with stretches or take more time for rest and recovery. You may also notice that your soreness worsens when you sit still and feels better after you’ve started moving again.
For an injury, the pain may only go away once you’ve applied ice or heat packs to the affected area. Rest may help as well, especially if the injury is a serious one. Continued movement and activity, whether you’re following the same workout or a new one, can worsen the issue.
Steps to Take With Lasting Pain
If you’re having a hard time telling the difference between minor soreness and a serious injury, seeing a medical professional can help. This is especially true if you’ve been living with chronic pain over a long period of time.
Whenever you suspect an injury, make an appointment with your doctor to get yourself back on track toward recovery. They’ll be able to advise you on any techniques or medications to help manage severe pain as well as the types of activities you should avoid.
Going forward, you may also want to work with a physical therapist to make sure you have good form throughout your exercise routine. With an expert checking your stance and posture, you’ll stand a much lower risk of injury during your workouts.
Get Medical Advice on Your Pain
Muscle soreness can be a minor source of inconvenience, but a serious injury is nothing to ignore. If you think you may have experienced an injury during a workout, the tips above can help you know the difference between sore vs. pain. For more information, schedule an appointment to see how our treatments can put you on the road back to recovery.