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The difference between muscle soreness and an injury

Published: 14 February 2018 - Fitness and Training, Injury Treatment and Prevention

Image of two women exercising

Exercise can bring on pain and discomfort, both during and after our workout. We get told often: no pain, no gain. But how do we know if it is good pain or bad pain?

What is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)?

How do we define good pain?

Good pain refers to the vague general soreness that occurs for one to two days following exercising. This is referred to as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short.

DOMS can occur following a weights session, an increase in exercise, or doing an activity that you haven’t done for a long time. When our muscles are challenged and working harder than normal, micro tears occur within the muscle belly. This can make the area we've worked out quite tender to touch but it usually resolves quickly.

Further reading: What the time of day tells us about pain
Further reading: Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Delayed onset muscle soreness is a good thing

With this type of good soreness, our muscles remodel, become stronger and more efficient. With some rest and healing (for a couple of days), and consistency in exercise frequency and gradual progressions, DOMS should be less intense and frequent.

The benefits of exercising within good pain limits include increased muscle mass, strength and fitness. In this case, no pain, no gain should be mild, short-term pain,and some gain.

Further reading: Top 4 reasons to stay active
Further reading: Try our full-body playground workout

Am I sore from my workout or injured?

Pain is the body’s natural response in the presence of danger, such as an injury.

So when should you get help with pain?

Bad pain comes in many forms, impacting our muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments or nerves. This pain is generally sharp (occasionally shooting) and sudden and generally signifies an injury that is unlikely to settle after 24 hours, hence further investigation and treatment is required by a physiotherapist.

It is important in this instance not to work through the pain!

Further reading: How to prevent low back pain
Further reading: Do I have Plantar Fasciitis

If your pain does not settle within 24 hours, it is time to seek some help!

Pain can take all shapes and forms. The important thing to remember is that pain is a warning and danger sign that something is not right.

Even with good pain or DOMS, we need to respect, rest and then continue.

If your pain does not settle within 24 hours, it is best to consult a physiotherapist as this may be indicative of an injury (bad pain). The earlier that we can get onto the pain/injury, the quicker and more complete the resolution will be - and the quicker you can get back to doing what you love.

So don’t wait – get onto that pain straight away! Need support? Contact us to book your Free Initial Assessment*