Exercise and physical therapy puts healthy stress on your muscles, bones and heart in order to boost their endurance and make them stronger. This healthy stress oftentimes leads to normal muscle soreness and fatigue, and it’s a sign that your body is becoming stronger. This soreness can be a little uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, it’s a good thing.
If healthy stress goes a little too far, it can lead to more than just soreness. When a muscle or joint is overloaded with acute or repetitive stress, it can lead to injury and pain. This pain tends to be a little more intense, and you’ll want to be careful not to push through this pain and continue on with your exercise, as this can lead to a larger injury.
But because pain and soreness are close cousins, how can you learn to tell the difference between the two? In today’s blog, we talk about some of the ways you can differentiate between pain and soreness.
Pain Vs. Soreness
As we mentioned above, soreness is normal after intense physical activity, but pain should not be. Since it’s not always easy to distinguish between muscle soreness and muscle pain, we are going to take a closer look at some of the subtle differences between the two. However, remember that this is just general information, and if you still have questions about the sensations you’re experiencing, consider connecting with a physical therapist in your area.
- Soreness – Soreness occurs as a result of your body working to repair small microtears in the muscle tissue. These small tears occur during healthy stress, and the repair process actually makes the muscles stronger. This process can lead to some mild discomfort in the muscle area, and this discomfort is usually most noticeable 24-72 hours after intense exercise involving that area of the body. Soreness is usually described as mild or moderate in intensity, and one of the more telltale signs of soreness is that it tends to fade if you stretch or slowly take on low-stress physical activity. For example, you may feel some soreness when you first wake up after a day of intense physical activity or exercise, but oftentimes this soreness fades a bit once you’re up and moving for a bit. By mid-day, your soreness will likely have faded or completely dissipated.
- Pain – Pain is the result of an injury like a strain or a sprain where a tissue is overloaded with stress. Instead of a dull ache like you may notice with soreness, pain tends to be sharper or more intense. Pain can be both localized or spread down an arm or a leg if a nerve is affected. Unlike soreness, this pain typically doesn’t really show much improvement with activity. Stretching and gentle movements tend to highlight pain instead of helping provide relief. If you find that the pain remains after some light warm-ups, shut things down for the day. Powering through with exercise or a workout can lead to a more significant injury. Short-term rest followed by gradual return to activity is a smart way to handle minor and mild injuries that are causing pain.
You should never be in pain during or after a physical therapy routine, but there is a good chance that you will experience some mild soreness. Your physical therapist is going to try to push you out of your comfort zone and put healthy stress on your muscles and bones, and when you do things correctly, you’re going to feel the fruits of your labor the next day. Remember, this is a good thing. However, if you believe that your soreness is actually pain, have a conversation with your physical therapist so that they can adjust your routine as needed.
Learning how to distinguish between pain and soreness can make it easier for you to continue to push your body to become stronger without increasing your risk of injury. To learn more about pain and soreness, or to talk to a physical therapist about a different issue, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.