Soreness vs Pain: What’s the Difference?

Sore vs. Pain
Sore vs. Pain

There are many benefits to exercise, including the potential for improved physical fitness and mental wellbeing. However, there may also be physical discomfort associated with these activities. It’s important to notice the difference between exercise related soreness and pain.

Muscular soreness is a healthy and expected result of pain. Whereas pain is an unhealthy and abnormal response. When you experience pain, it may be indicative of injury.
When working toward achieving fitness goals, your body needs to be pushed to an appropriate level where gains can occur. Each person’s body has a different activity threshold, which is dependent upon various factors, including age, baseline strength, and activity participation level. Muscle soreness occurs when you exercise within your threshold, while exceeding your threshold results in pain.

It’s expected that the threshold will progressively increase as you reach your expected outcomes with exercise. An example of this is when a person starts running, their safe threshold may be 5 minutes of running, but after several weeks of progressive increases in duration, the runner’s threshold may increase to 20-30 minutes.

It’s important to be able to determine your threshold in order to minimize injury risk.

Muscle soreness typically peaks 24-72 hours after activity, which is the result of small, safe damage to muscle fibers and is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). The muscles may be tender to touch and feel tight & achy.

Movement may be initially uncomfortable (for example, when you get out of a chair), but moving and gently stretching your muscles will help to decrease soreness. During the few day period that you are experiencing muscle soreness, you may consider performing alternate exercise activities in order to give your sore muscles an opportunity to recover while strengthening other muscles.



In contrast to muscular soreness, you may experience pain during or after performing exercise. This may feel sharp and be located in your muscles or joints. The pain may linger without fully going away, perhaps even after a period of rest. This may be indicative of an injury. Pushing through the pain can result in injury. If you feel that your pain is extreme or is not resolving after 7-10 days, you should consult with a medical professional.

A physical therapist can be a valuable resource to you throughout your exercise journey. Before beginning an exercise routine, your PT can perform a variety of pre-activity assessments to determine your readiness for exercise. Based on this, the therapist may recommend specific exercises that will best prepare you for your activities.

If the exercise leads to injury, your physical therapist will assist in your recovery in many pains. They will help with initial pain management, identify and address factors that may have contributed to your injury to prevent further problems and give specific recommendations on return to exercise.