Think about the last time you physically pushed your body’s limits. Now think about how your body felt the next day. What about the day after that? If you’re like most people, that “I can barely walk” or “I can’t even sit down today” feeling can be described by many words, but comfortable isn’t one of them.
It can be really hard to determine if this discomfort is actually pain or muscle soreness. What’s the difference anyway?
Pain tends to be discomfort that you experience during or right after you finish a physical activity. It tends to stick around, even after a period of rest. This could mean that you pushed yourself too hard and that an injury is present. Pain also tends to feel sharper compared to muscle soreness. If pain persists longer than 7-10 days, you should consult a licensed medical professional such as a Physical Therapist.
In contrast to pain, soreness doesn’t tend to occur until 24-72 hours after physical activity. This is due to a phenomenon called Delay Onset Muscular Soreness (DOMS) and is the process your muscles use to adapt to the load you put on them. With DOMS, movement initially feels uncomfortable, but gentle stretching and continued movement can lessen the discomfort. Continuing to exercise can actually speed up the DOMS process, as long as you focus on muscles other than the sore ones. After a couple of days, the soreness should subside and you’re officially ready to challenge those muscles a little harder next time!
Physical Therapists are the specialists in safely preparing your body for a new level of exercise, as well as getting to the bottom of any pain that has developed along the way.