Pain vs. Soreness: How to Know the Difference

May 13th, 2022

Staying active is crucial to staying healthy, but whether you’re a seasoned athlete or someone who goes for a leisurely walk for fitness, bumps in the road will come up. It’s important to know how to identify an injury before it worsens. It’s not uncommon for people to mistake an injury for soreness, and vice versa. 

Find out how you can tell the difference. 

How to Determine if it’s Pain or Soreness

Your body may feel delayed soreness following a workout of greater intensity or for a longer period of time than usual, or any sort of physical activity that is out of the norm. For example, lifting weights for the first time or using heavier weights than you’re used previously may result in tightness or tenderness.

An injury, on the other hand, is typically more painful than muscle soreness, and usually lasts longer. The pain you’re dealing with will likely come on suddenly, probably following a specific movement or incident. It will also be a different pain than you’d experience after a typical workout.

The following symptoms can signal an injury and you should consult an orthopaedic doctor immediately: 

  • Visible trauma such as bruising or dislocation

  • Causes limb instability

  • New popping or clicking 

  • Pain that doesn’t resolve within five days, or is getting worse

Preventing an Injury

Prevention methods can protect you from the painful symptoms that mean you’re dealing with an injury. If you’re an athlete or someone who exercises frequently, the preventative measures below may be especially useful:

  1. Create a Routine That Sticks

    Life can be hectic, and as a result, it can be tough to stick to a consistent schedule. However, eating meals, working out, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule will familiarize your body with how it should respond (i.e., you will feel hungry around the same time of day with a consistent routine). This not only has physical benefits but can also provide you with mental clarity and reduced stress levels.

  2. Eat for Fuel, and Hydrate

Healthy sources of carbohydrates, protein, and fats will keep your body energized and prepared for exercise. Also, don’t forget to stay hydrated! Eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day is the standard recommendation, although athletes tend to require more than that and some medical conditions recommend less. Staying appropriately hydrated will help with recovery and keep you focused while exercising and playing sports.

Those who do high-intensity exercise almost every day burn a lot of calories which must be replaced. Caloric deficits can lead to weight loss, fatigue, and possibly injury. Talk to your doctor about how much food you should be consuming during your training. 

  1. Cross-Train

    Cross-training simply refers to alternative forms of exercise from your primary sport or activity. Doing so helps you work out different muscle groups, creating a more balanced exercise regime. A key benefit of cross-training is that not always using the same muscles in the same way can reduce the likelihood of developing an overuse injury. So, if you’re a runner, try boxing a couple of days a week to work out your upper body. Mixing it up also decreases boredom and can keep you motivated.

  2. Prioritize Sleep

    High-level athletes know that sleep can make or break you. Insufficient sleep can decrease your energy levels and make you feel fatigued. Plus, without enough rest, your muscles will not be able to recover quickly.

    During your training weeks, schedule when you will go to sleep and wake up. As mentioned above, this becomes difficult when athletes have other activities (school, work, clubs, social engagements) to attend to each day. Nevertheless, striving for a set sleep routine will pay off on the field or court. 

Dealing with Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness can be a good thing! Sore muscles, the good sore, are a sign that your muscles are changing and growing. It’s called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and it’s typically caused by small microscopic tears in the muscle as a result of the additional stress placed on them by the workout, and it’s completely normal. However, it’s important to deal with it properly in order to perform the best and keep your muscles as healthy as possible. Check out these tips and implement them into your fitness regime.

  1. Active Warm Up, Recovery Cool Down

    Warming up with dynamic stretches and exercises gets your blood flowing and preps your body for movement. Cooling down brings your heart rate down at a safe, gradual rate. Removing either of these steps can lead to increased muscle soreness, fatigue, and injury.

  2. Train for Flexibility and Strength

    Flexibility exercises keep muscles limber and help to alleviate some of the stiffness you may experience. It’s also good to incorporate this step into your routine for performance. While the parts of your body you use during play or exercise may feel in top shape now, flexibility and strength training will keep them feeling good long-term. 

  3. Listen to Your Body

    With most types of training comes some soreness. However, if you feel pain that does not subside after a few days or gets worse over time, stop training and playing. Consider making an appointment with a sports medicine specialist who can evaluate your condition. You may not want to take yourself away from the sports you love, but your body will thank you. 

The more you know about your body and how to protect it, the easier it will be to maintain long-term health. 

For more information on how Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in New York is available if you are dealing with an injury, or to schedule an appointment, please visit us here.

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