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Soreness vs. Pain in Exercise: What’s the difference? And how do I recover faster?

Am I sore or am I injured?

At Perspirology, our dance cardio and trampoline workout classes are hard and sweaty. For new or infrequent exercisers who are in the early process of conditioning their muscles, a sore muscle response is likely and normal.

Sore muscles or delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, occurs from micro-tears in our muscle fibers as we put our body under demand. This usually feels like muscular fatigue, stiffness, and soreness.

Sometimes people might think this is a sign that something is wrong, or that they did something wrong to cause this. But this type of soreness is nothing to be alarmed about.

How do you know when soreness is a more serious problem that could indicate an injury?

There are specific indicators to differentiate between soreness and pain, or potential injury. Here are some helpful ways to self assess -

Length of Time Matters

The key thing to note when differentiating between soreness and pain is time. DOMS usually develops 12-24 hours after exercise and peaks around 24-48 hours after. DOMS is characterized by a dull aching sensation and tenderness in the affected muscle group, and can last typically from one to three days.

Pain from potential injury on the other hand centers around sharp pain, throbbing, swelling, difficulty moving the affected area, and weakness, intense burning, or joint pain that comes on quickly while engaged in physical activity or shortly after.

This type of response could be your body's response to tissue damage, inflammation or even nerve irritation and can be a sign of injury such as a strain, sprain, or tear. An injury like this will typically persist for a longer period of time.

“If the pain persists past one to two weeks, or is immediate and severe, you may have damaged muscles, tissues or joints”. (Baer, Rebound)

It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect an injury, as early intervention can help prevent further damage and facilitate a quicker recovery.

Localized vs. General

“When you’re feeling painful sensations localized in your joints and muscles, you may have an injury.” (Baer, Rebound)

If you feel a sense of soreness or burning in a whole muscle group vs a concentrated area, it is more likely DOMS.

Ways to Stay Ahead of Muscle Soreness


Conditioning your body for the activity ahead


Stretching post workout (and more gentle stretching aftwards)


Stay Hydrated (see our article on hydration)


Proper nutrition


Get a massage


Ice to help reduce inflammation


Heat to help increase blood flow to your muscles (i.e. hot bath or shower)


Increase circulation (see our article on foam rolling!)


Rest days and/or alternating activity types (if you exercise frequently)




More exercising!

You read that last one right. Exercise can increase the circulation in your muscles allowing them to recover faster. This is called active recovery and is often most successful when incorporating alternative exercises and/or workout types as to not necessarily “burn out” the same sore muscle group again but instead engaging them and promoting that blood flow to supercharge recovery.

“At the end of the day, DOMS is a positive reaction and is an alert from the body to ease off the hard training until you feel comfortable again. (Technogym). It also scientifically correlated to the building of muscle mass.

Listen to Your Body

By listening to your body and what it’s communicating to you in clear, easy-to-understand ways, you can clearly identify what is soreness and what is pain, and take active steps to fuel your body with what it needs to restore and refuel for your next sweaty, amazing workout.

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