Soreness versus Pain

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS

One of my first days in the backcountry this year. It sure was fun, but I was sore!
One of my first days in the backcountry this year. It sure was fun, but I was sore!

The American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) website for the public, called Move Forward, just came out with a great article about the difference between soreness and pain.1 As PTs, we get questions all the time about how much soreness is “normal” during various exercises. Although you are expected to feel some discomfort either during or after exercises, the old phrase “no pain, no gain” isn’t always true, either. While it is true that you do need to push your body to achieve gains, the push has to be at an appropriate level, which is different for each person depending on their age, current activity level, and strength, among other factors.1 As you continue to push your body in an appropriate fashion, your threshold for activity should increase and increase.1

Think about it like your first day back on skis for the season: for most of us, the first day back is usually a “mellow” one, where you hit up a series of relatively easier runs with interspersed breaks to “warm-up” your legs and get used to the motions required to make it safely and gracefully down the slope. After this first day back, you may experience some delayed muscle soreness for 1-2 days after skiing. Then, on your second and subsequent days back, you may take less breaks between runs and choose more and more challenging runs, with just the same amount of soreness as after the first day (or no soreness) as your body gets used to the challenge that you are providing. However, if you take your first day back on the slopes as a non-stop, quad-crushing day with mogul runs over and over again (and, most importantly, you weren’t prepared for it), you might pay for it later with a higher level of soreness that doesn’t quite go away after a couple days. That would be called pain. The Move Forward website broke it down in an easy-to-read table here:

Soreness Table

For more information on telling the difference between pain and soreness, consult with a physical therapist today to make sure you are playing hard within your body’s limits!

  1. Soreness vs Pain: What’s the Difference? Move Forward. American Physical Therapy Association. http://www.moveforwardpt.com/resources/detail/soreness-vs-pain-whats-difference. Accessed on December 5, 2016.