Soreness vs. Pain: How to Differentiate Between the Two?

Written by Nancy

Regular exercise and an active lifestyle are important for mental and physical wellbeing. Not only do they strengthen your muscles, but the rush of endorphins they result in also lifts your mood and improves your quality of life.

However, it’s normal for muscles to come under stress during exercise. This can cause some physical discomfort, depending on the type of exercise or activity.


Discomfort can be of two categories. There’s muscle soreness and there’s muscular pain. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial so you can take better care of your overall physical health.

Muscle soreness is usually the result of a good exercise session and is considered healthy.

Experiencing pain during and after exercise, however, is an abnormal and unhealthy response and may very well be indicative of a muscular injury.

Activity Threshold of An Individual:

Making physical improvements to the body by pushing it to its limits can have several benefits. However, each person’s activity threshold is different. It depends on factors such as participation levels, baseline muscle strength, and the age of the person.

Staying within the threshold is ideal, and will lead to some muscle soreness which is fine. Exceeding it will probably cause strains or other muscular injuries which cause lasting pain. To avoid serious injury and pain, it’s important to be realistic about your body’s strength and be able to tell the difference between pain and soreness.


Key Differences Between Pain and Soreness:

The easiest way to tell the difference between soreness and pain is to pay attention to your body and the aches that you experience. Trying to be ’strong’ and ignoring the pain can do a lot more damage than you’d think. Here’s how you can tell if it’s soreness or pain that you’re experiencing:

Muscle Soreness:

Muscle soreness typically starts a few hours after the activity and can peak anywhere from between 24 and 72 hours. It happens due to minor damage to muscle fibers as a result of stretching and repeated movements. This is completely safe and is also known as Delayed Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS). During this time, the muscles can feel achy, tight, and tender when rubbed or touched.

Initially, the muscles can become stiff and movements tend to uncomfortable. However, gentle stretching and moving can decrease the discomfort and restore mobility. It’s important to get moving again as soon as possible or the soreness will likely get worse.



During exercise, if you feel a sharp and intense pain, it might be indicative of an injury. The pain can linger even after you stop exercising and can worsen with time. Pushing through it and continuing to exercise will probably make the injury even worse. Stop exercising immediately and try treating it with ice and rest. Applying compression and keeping the body part elevated can also help. If the pain persists, you should consult a medical professional for a full evaluation.

A physical therapist can help you avoid injury during exercise. They can perform various pre-activity evaluations of your exercise threshold to determine the kind of exercises you can do without injuring yourself. In the unfortunate occasion of an injury, they can also assist you with the recovery process by recommending appropriate physical and regenerative therapies.

Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute in greater Toronto offers expert physiotherapy services, as well as sports medicine, and acupuncture treatments. To learn more about their clinics in Thornhill, Sheppard, and St. Clair, call them at 1-844-223-7364.

About the author



I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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