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Understand the difference between pain and soreness after exercise from ARS Hand and Physical Therapy in Springfield

by advancedrehabsolutions, February 20, 2015

Exercise can bring about a host of seemingly countless benefits, and the importance of making it part of your regular routine cannot be overstated. But in many cases, certain physical activities can lead to some discomfort that may get in the way of your performance. While some exercise-related soreness is completely normal, lingering pain is not, and it’s essential to know the difference to prevent an injury.

When we exercise, the body needs to be pushed to a certain level of exertion in order for physical improvements to occur. This is mainly determined by our activity threshold, which is different for each person based on many factors like age, strength and participation level. So long as you remain on the safe side of this threshold, you can exercise safely and should only feel muscle soreness afterwards. But if you exceed the threshold, it will likely result in pain and possibly injury.

One of the many goals of exercise is to increase your personal threshold, and the more you exercise, the higher the threshold will rise, allowing you to perform longer and harder with a lower injury risk. Throughout this process, you should be realistic about your threshold and be able to tell the difference between muscle soreness and pain. Being aware of your limits and not pushing yourself past them will help you to maximize your exercise gain while minimizing your risk of injury.

Pain and soreness have some striking differences that will help you determine if it’s normal or requires medical attention. Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics between the two that you should be aware of next time you exercise:

Muscle soreness

  • Generally described as tender when touching muscles, a tired or burning feeling while exercising, and a dull, tight achy feeling at rest
  • Results from small, safe damage to muscle fibers
  • Occurs during exercise or 24-72 hours afterwards
  • Improves with stretching or after movement, worsens with sitting still
  • Best course of action: resume activities after the soreness subsides


  • Described as an ache or sharp pain in muscles or joints at rest or while exercising
  • Occurs during or within 24 hours of activity; may linger if not treated
  • Improves with ice and rest; worsens with more activity
  • Best course of action: see a doctor if it’s extreme or lasts 1-2 weeks

Refer to these descriptions the next time you experience any discomfort and seek medical help when needed. It’s also important to remember that physical therapists at ARS Hand and Physical Therapy in Springfield, NJ can help you throughout this entire process. We can create an exercise program and prepare you for it, discuss strategies to help you progress, and if an injury does occur, we can help you get moving again as safely and quickly as possible. For more information on pain and soreness or to schedule an appointment, call us at 973-379-7006.

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