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Soreness Vs. Injury When to Worry

Novice and even veteran exercises sometimes have trouble telling the difference between soreness from muscle overload, which is what you do want, versus a muscle or joint injury from overdoing it, poor form, or incorrect technique: something you don’t want. With gyms now open following the pandemic closures, many are returning to their workouts and of course finding that familiar feeling of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS, yes there is an acronym for it.) with welcome delight knowing that they are doing something to build their muscles. It’s a sign that you did something different than what your muscles are used to, and feedback that you are improving fitness and strength. However, it can also be a sign that something is wrong, and that little something then develops into a more serious injury, impacting your life and your ability to workout. That’s something we all want to avoid.


As a massage therapist and personal trainer, new clients I meet often are injured or have a limitation, and most of the time the problem started off with something simple, like a sore shoulder or knee and the client backed off a bit but then “worked through the pain” and “thought it would go away,” with the problem getting worse to the point where ignoring it is impossible and then they seek my help. I compare this to waiting until the oil has all leaked out from the engine and the engine has seized up before calling the mechanic.

To avoid falling victim to this, look for these telltale signs to tell the difference between soreness and injury (or even potential injury): Muscles get sore when they are overloaded. Quite simply put, if you work your muscles beyond what they are used to or capable of, you will get sore. Even if you exercise regularly, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from getting sore. Do a workout your body isn’t familiar with and you’ll feel that masochistic badge of honor of achy muscles that are a glaring reminder of the hard work you put in. Soreness usually feels tender, tired, or even can be a burning feeling. Most people describe it as achy, stiff, and tight, whereas an injury usually causes a sharp pain. Soreness generally happens on both sides of the body, versus injury which typically manifests on one side. Soreness also tends to encompass an area or muscle group, versus injury which is usually felt in one specific spot. Soreness will ease up after a few days whereas injury will not and this the key difference. Anything lasting longer than a week and/or accompanied by swelling, are red flags telling you something is wrong. When symptoms linger, check with your doctor to get an accurate idea of what might be going on and how to care for it, with either physical therapy, massage therapy or further medical intervention.

Selina Sabha - Owner and trainer of Fusion Fitness Pacific Grove
Selina Sahba

Fusion Fitness Owner, Fitness Writer, Trainer and Massage Therapist

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