Exercise is a key component to a healthy and happy lifestyle. It impacts our mental and physical wellbeing and adds to the overall quality of life. While the benefits far outway the negatives, there is still, however, always the possibility that certain forms of physical activity, especially over exertion, may add stress to the body and potentially result in discomfort, or worse, injury.

Pain and discomfort in the body can be distracting and debilitating. Whether it is short bouts or longer lasting pain, it’s important to be able to identify the difference between muscular-related soreness, which results from exercise, or pain that alerts our body to an injury.

The only way to improve your body substantially is through challenging your body physically to a certain level in order for any gain to occur. Everyone is different, and therefore, each has a varying threshold that is dependent on certain qualifications such as activity level, length of time, and age. Knowing your personal threshold level makes the difference in whether you will experience muscular soreness, or pain due to exceeding your threshold.

Consistency in physical activity, when done appropriately, allows an individual to gradually increase their threshold. For example, when an individual begins lifting weights, they may be at their safest threshold with 3 reps of 2.5 lbs. per exercise.  After several weeks of slight increases in weight, they may be able to enlarge their threshold to 15 lbs. The same occurs for runner’s.

Knowing and listening to your body is key to preventing injury and enhancing your exercise gains. If you aren’t realistic about your personal threshold levels, you run the risk of overriding soreness and into pain and injury territory.


The chart below highlights key differences between muscle soreness and pain.

Soreness Pain
Symptoms: Tightness, dull sensation, achiness, tender when touching or moving muscles Sharp pains while at rest or exercising, shooting pains, achiness
Begins: During exercise or 24-72 hours after activity Within 24 hours of exercise or while working out
Length: 2-3 days Lingering pain
Area: Muscles Muscles or joints
Heals with: Stretching, moving around, additional movement, the right amount of rest and recovery R.I.C.E, adding more movement, unless pain continues
Impairs with: Lack of movement / sitting Continued activity without enough rest and recovery
Appropriate action: Get up and move once you have had the right amount of rest and recover. Also try switching up activities Always consult with your doctor if pain last longer than 1-2 weeks


Soreness in the muscles is usually felt anywhere between 24-72 hours after a workout or physical activity–this is also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). According to David O. Draper, professor and director of the graduate program in sports medicine/athletic training at Brigham Young University, “Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common result of physical activity that stresses the muscle tissue beyond what it is accustomed to.” Furthermore, Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, says that, “The aches and pains should be minor, and are simply indications that muscles are adapting to your fitness regimen.” Movement may be a challenge during this period, but soreness should gradually decrease within a few days. Changing your routine to a different form of activity will allow your muscles to recover while enhancing other muscles.  initially be uncomfortable but moving and gently stretching your muscles will help to decrease soreness.


On the other hand, if you are experiencing discomfort or pain during or after a workout or activity, that includes sharpness, you may have an injury. The pain may be a dull aching or lingering feeling without fully stopping, even after a long period of rest. Often times individuals will continue to workout or perform certain activities and push through the pain. However, this can lead to a more heightened issue. If pain continues for 1-2 weeks without any resolve, you should consult with a doctor to get to the root of the problem, as well as prevent further damage to location in question.


No one is immune to soreness or pain. Therefore, it is highly recommended to seek the support of a physical therapist throughout your fitness journey. A physical therapist can conduct several pre-activity evaluations to help determine your physicality threshold and if you are ready for specific exercises. Essentially, your physical therapist can customize a through plan to help you achieve your fitness goals safely and timely. They will also discuss the best strategies for introducing and progressing exercise activities while minimizing your chance of becoming injured.

In an instance where fitness leads to injury, your physical therapist can be a great support to help you recover to return back to your normal journey quickly. A physical therapist can first help you identify all of the factors that contribute to issue, as well as address the pain in order to manage it. Overall, the goal of the physical therapist is to help heal and prevent any additional problems while providing the right tools to get you back to your exercise regime in a healthy and safe way. Lastly, physical therapists are a great option to help treat any chronic pain with personal care, the right education and movement. Connect with us to get you started on your journey today!

-Apex Physical Therapy Team

Learn more. For a consultation, contact the Apex Physical Therapy team!

Email: info@apexphysical.com
Phone: 516-719-0719