The Difference Between Soreness and Injury After Exercise By David Fireside BS, BCTMB
After the past 2 years and with spring upon us, we are all eager to get outside and become
active. For some, that means a simple walk around the block after dinner, and for others it can
mean significantly more physical activity. The term ‘Weekend Warrior’ comes to mind.
Anyone who has completed a tough workout can attest to the transformative nature of
vigorous exercise. Regular workouts can help improve overall fitness, gradually conditioning the
body and increasing strength and endurance.
Soreness is a natural result of pushing the body through difficult physical tasks. Putting tension
on muscles can cause micro tears to form, which repair themselves in the days following a
workout. How can we tell the difference between muscle soreness, which is a natural and
expected consequence of working out, and pain due to an injury?
As massage therapists it is very important when doing our intake evaluations to listen, process,
and have the knowledge to design a treatment plan. The information below can help you to do
Duration of Discomfort
Soreness after exercise often peaks between 24-72 hours after exercise. Known as Delayed
Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS), this soreness is the body’s natural reaction to exercise.
DOMS can cause tender, aching muscles. After a few days, that soreness should be subsiding or
have completely disappeared. If your client/patient has discomfort lingering beyond the 72
hours mark, it is possible that they have experienced an injury.
Types of Discomfort
Sometimes, soreness and injury can feel similar. Often the difference should be obvious.
Soreness generally comes in the form of achy or stiff muscles that react when we work them
during everyday activity. On the other hand, if they are feeling sharp pains that cause an
unusual restriction of their mobility, they may have experienced an injury. Also, if the pain is
consistent and occurring whether they are at rest or moving, this is indicative of an injury.
How to Treat It
If they are experiencing the kind of soreness typical of an aggressive workout, you can help
them by encouraging them to treat their body well by getting enough sleep, staying well
hydrated, and eating right. They can also work out tight muscles using a therapy roller, getting a
massage and making sure to stretch. Other than that, the best thing to do is wait out the
soreness- it will go away in time. If they are feeling sharp or extreme pain, or pain well beyond
72 hours after exercise, it is very possible they have sustained an injury. Depending on the
injury and time elapsed since they first noticed the pain, hot or cold therapy can help reduce
swelling and relieve pain. If they suspect they are injured, encourage them to schedule an appointment with a doctor, physical therapist or massage therapist just to make sure that the
injury is being treated properly.