Know The Difference Between Soreness and Pain

Healthy soreness is a sign that your exercise program is building your body’s strength, but it’s important to know the difference between soreness that is beneficial, and pain that is signaling an injury.

We’ve heard coaches and trainers encourage us that it’s good to “feel the burn.” We all have an individual activity threshold that is dependent on factors including age, baseline strength, and our level of physical exercise. When we are on the safe side of our threshold, we experience muscular soreness, not pain. But how do we know when the positive muscular stress of a vigorous workout is starting to shift into pain that is indicative of injury?

Healthy muscle soreness is characterized by tenderness when muscles are touched, a burning feeling during exercise, and a minimal dull, achy feeling at rest. We may feel this during exercise or 24 to 72 hours afterwards, and it may worsen when we sit still, but this soreness dissipates in two or three days, and improves with gentle stretching and movement.

Pain is an experience characterized by an ache or sharp discomfort while exercising or at rest. It occurs during, or within 24 hours of, exercise, and may linger if it is not addressed. Pain may require ice or rest before it subsides, and continued exercise aggravates the discomfort. When the pain is extreme, or doesn’t resolve within one or two weeks, it’s time to consult a physician.

When you are planning your exercise program, be realistic about your activity threshold. If you build the intensity of your routine gradually over time, and know how to distinguish between the soreness you should expect, and the pain you shouldn’t, you’ll be in great shape to safely achieve your exercise goals.

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