SORE v. Injury – Know Your Red Flags

If you are an athlete at any level, I am sure soreness is a part of your identity now, but do you know how to tell the difference in pain/injury and muscle soreness? Here is a simple overview of the difference between soreness and pain and when to rest and recover or take other measures to get to feeling better.

Time Matters– and not just in your workouts.

The huge thing to note when differentiating between soreness and pain is time. Natural soreness from physical activity has a much shorter duration of time- typically a few days. It will typically buff out, a lot slower if you aren’t recovering, stretching, bodywork, Epsom salt baths, etc. Soreness should last anywhere from one to three days, depending on the athlete. If you have experienced pain- you know that it can come on quickly, most of the times while engaged in exercise or shortly after. Pain will typically linger after 3-5 days and make it difficult or even impossible to partake in any exercise or daily activities.

Pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is our bodies “check engine” light and alerts us that we need to fix our shit.

After strenuous exercise, or exercise after a hiatus from physical activity, it is natural to experience muscle soreness- you may hear someone say they have caught the DOMS (we will get into what that is a little later) Usually, muscles are tender to the touch or burn slightly with movement.

Hello muscle soreness.

During workouts, our muscles are put to the test and face fatigue. This usually doesn’t hit until a day, usually two later…DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Discomfort will gradually go away but a red flag indicator of something more serious is when the pain is persistent, during rest or fitness. This is your sign, please seek help so you can start to move, live, and workout pain free.

Okay, so DOMS. No soreness, no growth?

DOMS can be a great sign of muscle damage cause by training and as we know the body “renews” the damage to our muscle cells so that we can endure more load and intensity. Aka “muscle growth” aka “gains”. So, now that we understand on the surface what DOMS is, let’s briefly go over what DOMS is NOT. It is not the buildup of lactic acid. High intensity exercise DOES lead to lactic acid, but soon after, during rest, lactic acid is excreted or burned off. DOMS is the result of the muscle damage, mentioned above, which leads to inflammation.

Even though soreness is inevitable, how can we try to stay a few steps ahead of soreness?

First, know YOUR limits. Not your friends, not an Olympian not your mom’s…YOURS. Prepping your body pre-workout and recovering, stretching post workout. I will state the obvious here: REST, HYDRATION, and NUTRITION play major key roles in recovering. Switch up your activity as well. 21-15-9 and 1RM daily aren’t the best idea. Fun? Yes, but if you are in this for the long haul, be smart. 

Live Well, 


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