Exercise – Is It Muscle Soreness Or Am I Injured


With the rise of home workouts during the Corona Virus or COVID-19 pandemic, you want to be well aware on how your body responds to the physical stress from exercising as it could be more than just delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), but an injury.

So how do you tell between the two ? Knowing the difference between the pain of muscle injury and the pain of muscle soreness comes down to two things :

• The pain from an injury is typically acute and sharp. You may require medical attention as it may immobilize you (you may not be able to move your body temporarily and you would require assistance from those around you).

• The pain from DOMS is typically soreness, tightness and tenderness to the touch. You may only need light stretching, warm baths, increasing your protein intake after training as well to trigger the muscle repair process amongst other things that may relieve muscle soreness after working out.

With high-intensity workouts like HIIT or just getting out and accomplishing a light outdoor walk, you could get a muscle ache -which typically results in the growth and development of muscle tissue- or a muscle injury -which may require medical attention. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a muscle ache and a muscle injury at first glance of the situation.


Broadly speaking, a muscle injury involves damage to muscle fibers, tendons or small blood vessels located within the muscle. The main types of muscle injuries include muscle pull, muscle strain and muscle tear.

Most muscle injuries occur during the eccentric loading (lengthening) of muscles when the muscle is subjected to great stress. Muscles that cross two joints, such as the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf, which are all located in your legs, are particularly prone to injury. Additionally, the hip adductor muscle, in your inner thigh, which crosses only one joint -the hip joint- is susceptible to injury.

Some factors that can predispose you to muscle injury include fatigue, overuse, lack of strength in the target muscle and previous muscle injury. The common symptoms of muscle injury include extreme irritation, inflammation, bleeding, pain and bruising.


When you stress a muscle beyond its limit, the muscle is likely to develop small microscopic tears, leading to muscle ache. Technically known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the pain associated with muscle ache typically begins six to eight hours after a strenuous physical activity, such as a high-intensity workout or weight lifting and lasts anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.

The microscopic muscle tears are important because they allow the muscle to grow larger and stronger. DOMS can affect virtually anyone, including elite athletes. The common risk factors for DOMS include insufficient rest break between sets (strength training), adding new high-intensity activities to your workout program and increasing the intensity of your workout. Effective remedies for muscle ache include warming up and cooling down for your workouts, ingesting sufficient protein after training and slowly progressing in your workouts.

Factors to consider when differentiating between muscle soreness and a potential injury :

ONSET OF PAIN. Characterised by micro-tears in the muscle fibre, DOMS cause inflammation and pressure on pain receptors. The pain and discomfort associated with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) typically starts two to 24 hours after a workout session and peaks at about 36 hours. In contrast, when you sustain a muscle injury, you will feel pain almost immediately in response to the injury.

LENGTH OF PAIN. In most cases, the pain associated with muscle soreness will become less severe within two or three days. Even in severe cases of soreness, the pain typically abates over time. In contrast, the pain from a muscle injury generally gets worse over time and often requires medical attention.

LOCATION OF PAIN. If the pain is localized and you can pinpoint it with one finger or if it is located in a bone, joint or tendon, then you’re likely dealing with an injury. If the pain involves a larger area, such as an entire muscle group, then you’re likely dealing with muscle ache.

TYPE OF PAIN. Typically, muscle soreness will cause the affected muscle to feel tighter, dully achy and tender to the touch. When exercising, the affected muscle will seem fatigued or it might burn. Unlike the pain from muscle soreness, the pain from an injury is typically acute and sharp and will not allow you to continue with your workout routine until you are fully recovered.

Please note that if you have an injury, it is best to recover fully before getting back to exercising.

Take care & let the grind continue!

Mitchelle Adagala, Certified Personal Trainer.

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