Physical activity is/should be a natural component in our day-to-day lives. Regardless of what level of fitness an individual is currently at, it seems safe to assume for the most part that the majority of the adult population has experienced some degree of muscle soreness. This could be a result of pushing one’s self too hard in the gym, or perhaps performing a different type of strenuous action (shoveling snow, raking leaves, etc.) with improper form. Regardless of the cause, being sore is not a phenomenon that in it of itself is “bad” or indicates that something is wrong with the person experiencing it. However, it is certainly important to be able to distinguish between sores and pain in order to successfully navigate exercise or other consistent physically activity.
The difference between these two concepts may not be as clear to some as it may be to others, depending on exercise frequency and/or intensity. Soreness or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) is the natural result of putting stress or “tearing” the muscles fibers of the body that then must repair themselves. This leaves the affected areas feeling achy or tight and may even be considered “painful” again depending on how active or inactive the individual in question is. DOMS typically lasts between 24-72 hours post activity but can normally be treated rather easily with stretching and light movement. Overall, soreness rarely feels as though the integrity of a bodily structure is compromised. The same, however, cannot be said about pain.
Pain can and often is an indication that something could actually be wrong in the body. Sharp aches in a particular area or a limited range of motion in a joint/ligament could certainly require medical attention. This is especially true if the feeling of discomfort has lasted for a week or more. In this case, it is not advised that “pushing through” the pain would do anything except make the problem worse. The last thing someone would want is to create a much longer lasting injury from a situation that could be resolved by simply resting or reducing the stimulus that is causing the pain in question.
While it may sometimes be difficult (even for trained professionals) to navigate the line between soreness and pain, it can be said that erring on the side of caution can ultimately prevent any major issues for those who may not have extensive knowledge about anatomy or physiology. With that being said, learning one’s own body and limitations will serve to allow those who seek it the opportunity to expand their threshold and take their bodies and minds to the next level.