Differentiating Between Pain and Soreness

Differentiating Between Pain and Soreness

Are you in PAIN or SORE from activity?

Differentiating between being in pain and having soreness from activity can be challenging at times. Is your back just sore from lifting all of those boxes or did an injury occur? Are your legs a little beat up from your last gym session or are you having pain from pushing too hard and straining something? Thankfully, there are a few parameters we can use to gauge if you are injured or if you just worked hard and your body is recovering from it.

What does it feel like?

SORENESS will often feel like your muscles are tired from doing something. You may have general fatigue to the area in question. Applying pressure to the muscles of this area will likely be a little uncomfortable initially, but the area feels better after something like massage, foam rolling, or stretching. Soreness can often show up as a local burning sensation in the area you are working (for example, burning in the hips and lower back if you are shoveling snow or in the legs if you are performing squats). You may notice that you are slow to start moving, but once you are up and going, you feel less soreness or discomfort. Dull, tight, and achy are typical descriptors for when someone is sore.

PAIN can take on many faces. It may feel dull, tight, or achy, but could also feel like burning, sharp, stabbing, shooting, and throbbing. Applying pressure to the muscles or joints may increase pain. Pain can be present at movement or rest. Pain often, but not always, has a predilection to a certain position, such as bending, leaning backward, or sitting. Pain will often have a time component associated as well: for example, the longer you stand, the more discomfort you experience. Pain may come with radiation to other areas of the body.

How long does it last?

SORENESS typically lasts around 24-72 hours following activity. Soreness often sets in gradually as time progresses from your last exercise or activity session.


PAIN can resolve quickly, but can also last days, weeks, months, or years past when an injury has occured. 

Where do you feel it?

SORENESS from activity is noted typically within the muscular tissue that you worked. Soreness should make sense based on what activities you performed that day or in the past 2-3 days.


Pain can show up anywhere in the body. You may notice it in your muscles, joints, tendons, or ligaments (when thinking about the musculoskeletal system). Pain doesn’t always make sense when present. In many cases, there is a clear cause and effect: I picked up something too heavy and now my back hurts, however, this is not always the case. Pain can present without known origin.

Associated Findings:

Soreness may have tenderness to the muscular tissue affected with pressure. Stiffness to the muscles is common, particularly when initiating movement. Fatigue to the area is often present. Soreness is often mild-moderate discomfort. Soreness typically does not change how your body moves with the exception of increased stiffness.


Pain may have tenderness over the joint, muscle, tendon, or ligament affected. Pain may shoot or radiate to other areas depending on movement or position. Pain may increase depending on your activity or positioning. You may have to alter your activities to remain pain free, hold your body a certain way, or avoid positions such as sitting, laying flat, or standing to decrease pain.  Pain can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Appropriate Actions:

For soreness, stretching, foam rolling, and other recovery methods such as light walking or cycling will often improve the discomfort. There are also many passive recovery solutions like air compression pants, MarcPro electronic stimulation units, and massage tables that can help to speed up your recovery and soreness. The Recovery Room at Wellness Solutions Chiropractic Center has many of these passive recovery tools for you use, find out opens in a new windowmore here. Soreness should resolve within a few days.


For pain, consult a medical provider, particularly if pain is severe or lasts for greater than 1 week.

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