3 Differences Between Sore Muscles and an Injury

Last updated: 10-15-2020

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3 Differences Between Sore Muscles and an Injury

You’ve probably heard the slogan “No Pain, No Gain,” and while some mild soreness should accompany any grueling workout, sometimes it can be hard to distinguish what pain is from muscle soreness and what pain is from an injury. You can compete through soreness with the help of stretching and warm-up techniques, but you’re not going to want to push through an injury, like a pulled muscle or a ligament damage, because doing so can make the injury 10 times worse. Today, we’re going to explain three ways to help you spot the difference between general soreness and an acute injury.
Soreness or Injury?

There are a number of ways to determine if pain is being caused soreness or an injury, and most of them come down to using common sense and evaluating the signs your body is giving off. Here are three ways to assess the pain:

1. You Can Pinpoint The Pain – Soreness is generally located in an “area” of the body, while an injury in often located in a “spot.” If a doctor asked you to describe where the pain was, and you kind of wave your hand like a wand over an area of your body, you’re probably dealing with soreness. On the flip side, if a doctor were to ask you where your pain was and you can point to the exact spot that’s the source of the pain, that’s more likely to be a specific injury, like a muscle strain or tear. (Note: This is by no means 100 percent accurate and all potential injuries should be viewed by a licensed physician, but this example if used to give a ballpark estimate of how to evaluate pain, not a cut-and-dry way to determine what is and isn’t an injury.)

2. Only One Side Hurts – If you were doing a lot of abwork or box jumps, you should feel soreness throughout your abdomen and in both of your calfs. If you’re dealing with pain in only the left side of your stomach or in your right calf, that’s another red flag that could signal that part of your body is dealing with an injury. It’s very rare that you strain both calf muscles or pull two hamstrings during a workout, so if one side hurts much more than the other, or it’s taking one side a lot longer to recover, it’s probably because of an undiagnosed injury.

3. It Doesn’t Go Away – Nobody likes to get out of bed the day after an intense workout, but if your pain is the worst during the first 10 minutes of the day, odds are you’re just dealing with soreness. As you wake up and your muscles warm up, the soreness should start to dissipate. It may not completely go away, but it will probably become more manageable as the day goes on. But on the other hand, if you notice a stinging pain when you reach over your desk to answer the phone or you walk all day with a limp, it’s likely more than just general soreness.


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