A little muscle soreness is normal when you try a new activity or push through a tough workout. At what point, however, does soreness signify an injury?
As kids get back to the field with school sports and families continue to enjoy late-summer outdoor activities like hiking and swimming, the potential is there for workout-related soreness and even injuries. Here’s how you can distinguish between muscle soreness and more serious musculoskeletal injuries.
The 411 on Muscle Aches
When you exercise, you sustain microscopic tears in your muscle tissue—tears that your muscles work to repair over the following days, according to the American Council on Exercise. This repair-and-rebuild process helps improve muscle strength and is one reason you feel sore after rigorous activity.
After a workout, you may feel two different types of soreness. Acute muscle soreness is the stiffness or aches you may feel within the 12 hours following your workout, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In cases of delayed onset muscle soreness, the American College of Sports Medicine notes, symptoms may not start for at least 12 hours, and soreness may peak one to three days after exercise.
What’s ‘Typical’ Soreness?
You shouldn’t feel more than minor aches and stiffness in the days after your workout. If symptoms prevent you from walking upstairs or doing other normal activities, you should consider lowering the activity’s intensity. In many cases of debilitating soreness and injuries, people try to do too much too soon. Instead of adopting a no-pain, no-gain approach, increase your intensity level slowly over time.
Feel pain during workout? Stop exercising—there’s no benefit in trying to push through it. If pain persists, you notice significant bruising or swelling, or you are unable to put weight on the affected limb, visit your physician or an urgent care center to rule out a more serious acute or overuse injury. You should also see your physician if muscle stiffness and soreness persists for more than a week.