Can you tell the difference between muscle soreness and injury-related pain?
Whilst training for a sport event – let’s say a half marathon – it is likely that you will experience uncomfortable symptoms that could either be expected muscle soreness or pain associated with injury.
So how can you distinguish between “good” and “bad” pain?
Let’s find out…
Muscle Soreness (the good one):
Muscle soreness, or delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) is commonly experienced in both elite and novice athletes. They can occur when starting a new programme, changing routine or increasing the intensity/duration of an exercise. Microscopic damage to the muscle fibres is believed to be the cause of the symptomatic soreness/stiffness.
Symptoms can include:
A muscular dull ache.
Symptoms are post activity, often delayed until the next day.
They typically last up to three days, sometimes up to five.
They decrease with movement.
Intensity of DOMS decreases with time as you become more accustomed to the demands of the activity.
You have signed up for a half-marathon race. You go out for your first run, it felt good but the next day you woke up with an ache in your legs, maybe just in your quads and/or calfs. The following day your muscles still feel sore, maybe even worse than the previous day! But by day three or four post run the discomfort has gone. This is likely to be muscle soreness.
Injury-related Pain (the bad one):
Injuries can be caused by obvious mechanisms such as falling over, rolling your ankle etc. Other cases can have a more gradual onset with pain getting worse over time. Pain is described as severe discomfort or an uncomfortable sensation that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage (Kumar & Elavarasi, 2016).
Symptoms can include:
A sharp sensation, or a dull ache.
Muscular or deep within the joint.
Numbness or tingling.
Feeling of instability.
Associated bruising, swelling or deformity.
Symptoms arise during or immediately post activity.
Symptoms stay past three days.
You have signed up for a half-marathon race. You go out for a run, during the run your knee feels a little niggly and on some strides you even experience a sharp pain. After the run your knee muscle still feels sore, maybe the pain turns into an ache. It feels deep within the joint. And it doesn’t stop. When you go up and/or down the stairs you experience another sharp pain. You go to bed, you rest, but the next day it is still there. And the day after that. And when you decide to run again, the symptoms are not improving. This is likely to be an injury-related pain. A more serious pathology.
When to seek help?
Although muscle soreness is likely to get better with time, integrating sports massage, active recovery, stretching and strength training into your routine would assist your recovery. These are all things we can help you with at Injury Active.
Aim to catch the symptoms early, training through pain is likely to make things worse. Getting a little niggle checked out may prevent a small becoming serious. Equally, if you are experiencing a long-term injury, it is not too late to get help.
Our aim at Injury Active is to address the cause of the issue. Did you have a spike in load? Are you unable to access a range of movement somewhere in the body? Have you had previous injuries? All these things can be addressed and treated, whether it is through improving range of motion, strength, stability, and/or management of training. If you have a niggle or an injury that you would like assessing, or you would like some assistance with your recovery, get in contact with us, or book online.
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BSc Hons Sports and Exercise Therapy MSST
Cheung, K., Hume, P. A. and Maxwell, L. (2003) Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Sports Medicine, Fed; 33(2); 145-164
Kumar, K. H. and Elavarasi, P. (2016) Definition of Pain and Classification of Pain Disorders. Journal of Advanced Clinical and Research Insights, Jun; 3; 87-90