Pain vs. Soreness: How to Tell the Difference

pain vs. soreness

What is pain? And how is it different from soreness?

You hit the weights a little harder this week, and now you can barely walk up the stairs. We’ve all been there. Being sore after a strenuous workout is normal. But what about when you’re struggling to move because your legs feel like jello? Or because your knee is swollen and tender? That pain could mean something isn’t right. And understanding the difference is important. Here’s how to tell the difference in pain vs. soreness.

When it comes to pain, our team wants to help you identify when something’s not quite right. Let’s take a look at the difference between pain and soreness.

“No pain, no gain.”

Someone’s probably thrown this phrase at you a time or two. Maybe when you were trying to max out your bench press reps or run a final lap before the timer stopped. It’s important to push yourself, but not if the result is an injury.

Reaching your fitness goals is hard work. It’s normal for your body to respond with soreness. The key is learning about your body and recognizing when something is wrong.

Not all pain is created equal

When you’re training, think in terms of  “Good Pain” and “Bad Pain.” Good pain is muscle fatigue or soreness after completing a squat complex. It’s muscle burn after high-intensity interval training. As long as you’re maintaining proper form, control and mobility, this Good Pain is a sign that your body is getting stronger.

If you started working out recently or missed a couple of weeks of training, it’s common to feel pain in places you wouldn’t expect. Regular training will help each session feel less painful and increase your recovery speed. It will also help you distinguish harmless, short-term discomfort from an injury. When you fail to notice the Bad Pain, you can do serious damage to your performance and your body.

Recognize the signs of Bad Pain

Bad Pain can occur when your body is exposed to excessive amounts of stress. These stresses might happen during a single workout, like trying to lift too much weight when you’re not ready. Sometimes there’s that specific moment where you feel/hear a pop or snap, and you immediately know something’s not right.

But stress can also build up over time. Training too many days in a row is a great example of this delayed stress – your body needs time to recover. Often, athletes don’t immediately notice the damage they’re doing, and they keep on moving.

For beginners, it’s recommended to start out slowly and gradually increase the intensity of the exercises as you progress. A slight burn that goes away after the muscles stop working is perfectly fine. The same goes for next-day stiffness or soreness.

A lingering ache, however, is Bad Pain. It’s a sign that you’ve overdone your workout. You should immediately take time to rest and stop over-exerting yourself to prevent worsening the injury.

If you’re training for a big race and feel pain in your knees, don’t push through it. It’s better to cut your run short and be in good shape to run again the next day. Pushing too hard could leave you out of commission for weeks while you heal.

Check in with an expert

Many athletes avoid seeing a doctor or physical therapist when they’re in pain. They don’t want to hear that they need to stop working out.

It’s important to recognize that an injury doesn’t mean you’re sidelined. You may just need to adjust the intensity, or work a different set of muscles. At Accel, our expert team of performance coaches can assess your situation to determine if it is pain vs. soreness. They’ll provide a workout routine to help you stay on track during your recovery. Even better, they can assess your movement and catch the ways you’re putting your body under stress. This can help you put a stop to Bad Pain before it ever starts.