The Difference Between Soreness and Pain? - Fort Lee Physical Therapy - Fort Lee, NJ
Hyun J. (June) Park,  PT, DPT, CIDN

Hyun J. (June) Park, PT, DPT, CIDN

Dr Hyun Park graduated from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. She is certified in dry needling by the Integrative Dry Needling Institute and a member of the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association).

The Difference Between Soreness and Pain?

In a previous blog I wrote about proper exercise recovery – so as a follow up I thought it would be a good idea to talk about soreness vs. pain.

In a previous blog I wrote about proper exercise recovery – so as a follow up I thought it would be a good idea to talk about soreness vs. pain, and how a physical therapist can help.

It is vital that everyone understand the difference between exercise-related muscular soreness and pain – since muscular soreness is a healthy and expected, whereas pain can be the sign of an injury.

Individual Activity Threshold

Everyone’s body has a different activity threshold that depends on several factors. These factors include; age, baseline strength, and participation level. Basically what I am trying to say is that if you know your threshold and remain on the “safe” side you activity will result in muscular soreness (a positive thing), but if you exceed your threshold you could end up in pain (or injured).

Of course I am sure that you know that when done appropriately exercising will increase your natural threshold – which is basically the entire point of physical fitness. In order to maximize your exercise gains and minimize the risk of injury, it is important to be realistic and pay close attention to your threshold – and recognize the different between soreness and pain.

All that being said I think it’s time to dive into both so that moving forward you will be able to tell the difference, and avoid possible problems in the future.

Muscle Soreness

If you’ve ever done a really tough workout at the gym I am sure you know that the peak of muscle soreness is 24-72 hours after the workout. Basically this is the result of a small – safe – amount of damage to muscle fibres – the fancy name for it is Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS). During this time you will notice that your muscles feel tender to touch as well as tight and achy. At first you will notice that movement may be a little bit uncomfortable, but you can help decrease the soreness if you move and gently stretch your muscles. During the few day period that you experiencing muscle soreness, you should be performing alternate exercise activities in order to give your sore muscles ample time to fully recover.

Muscle Pain

Unlike muscle soreness – you will likely experience muscle pain during or immediately after exercise. It could feel like a sharp, and be located in either your muscles or joints. When you experience this sensation pay attention to whether the pain lingers without fully going away – even after a period of rest. If you continue to be uncomfortable this may be the sign of an injury. Do not try to push through pain, as it can end up resulting in injury.

Pease keep in mind that if your pain is extreme, or is not resolved after 7-10 days, you should immediately consult a medical professional. It is important to have your injury diagnosed immediately so that you can take the proper steps into recovery.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

Using a physical therapist is a great way to help you through your exercise regiment. Before beginning an exercise routine a physical therapist can take you through a variety of pre-activity assessments to determine whether or not you are ready. After the assessment we can recommend specific exercises that will best prepare you for the activities you want to do. We will also discuss with you the best strategies for introducing and progressing through activities so that your risk of injury is minimal.

That being said – in the unfortunate situation that exercise does leads to an injury, we can assist in your recovery in many ways. We will help you with initial pain management, then identify and address all factors that may have contributed to your injury in order to prevent more problems in the future – and will also provide you specific recommendations regarding how and when it is appropriate to start exercising again.

If you are interested in speaking with us about any of the above issues please do not hesitate. You can get in touch with us by filling out this contact form or feel free to us a call at 201-585-7300 to set up a consultation. We look forward to helping you!


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