Soreness vs. Pain

January 27, 2023

By Strive Marketing

Soreness vs. Pain: What’s the difference

One of the biggest complaints we see after a patient’s first appointment is that they’re still in pain or ‘the therapist made it worse’. What they don’t understand is the difference between pain and soreness. The patient is almost always experiencing soreness. Physical therapy is considered exercise and there may be some physical discomfort associated with new activities and new stresses placed on the body and muscles.

When experiencing discomfort, it is important to understand the difference between exercise-related muscle soreness and pain. Muscular soreness is a healthy and expected result of exercise. So don’t be so quick to give up! However, pain may be indicative of injury. But pain is personal, and the level of injury does not always equal the degree of pain. Everyone has a different pain tolerance. Understanding your own pain is helpful to managing getting better.

Individual Activity Threshold

To make physical improvements, your body needs to be pushed to an appropriate level where gains can occur. Each person’s body has a different activity threshold dependent upon many factors, including age, baseline strength, and participation level. Remaining on the safe side of your threshold will result in muscular soreness. Exceeding your threshold will result in pain.

One of the positive outcomes of exercise, is that your threshold will progressively increase. For example, when someone begins running, their safe threshold may be 5 minutes of running. After several weeks of progressive increases in duration, this person’s threshold may increase to 20-30 minutes of running.

To maximize your exercise gains and minimize injury risk, it is important to be realistic about your activity threshold and to be able to differentiate between moderate muscle soreness and pain. You may be thinking you want to push through pain to reach your goals, but that is only going to set you back in the long run. Gains and improvements don’t happen overnight.

Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness typically peaks 24-72 hours after activity. During this time, your muscles may be tender to touch and feel tight and achy. Movement may initially be uncomfortable but moving and gently stretching your muscles will help to decrease soreness. During the short period that you experiencing muscular soreness, consider activities that focus on another muscle group to give your sore muscles an opportunity to recover while still staying active.


In contrast to muscular soreness, you may experience pain during or after performing exercise. More than tight and achy feelings in the muscles, this may feel sharp. If this pain lingers without fully going away, it could be indicative of an injury. Remember, pushing through injury can worsen the problem. If you feel that your pain is extreme or is not resolving after 7-10 days you should consult with a medical professional.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

A physical therapist can be a valuable resource to you throughout your exercise journey. Before beginning an exercise routine, your physical therapist can perform a variety of pre-activity assessments to determine your readiness for exercise. Based on this, your physical therapist may also recommend specific exercises that will best prepare you for your desired goals. They will also discuss the best strategies for introducing and progressing exercise activities while minimizing your chance of injury.

Your physical therapist is always available when exercise leads to an injury.  They help with initial pain management, address all factors that may have contributed to your injury to prevent further problems and provide specific recommendations regarding reintegration into exercise as appropriate. Strive offers free consultations, so if you have any questions give us a call!

Written By:

Strive Marketing

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