No matter how frequently you visit the gym or how regularly you exercise, you are still vulnerable to muscle pain and soreness after. Most of the time, people think that their muscles become sore after working out because the exercises are working for their bodies. In a way, the discomfort you feel after exercising can be a sign that your program is working for your body and your muscles are getting stronger. While partly true, there’s another explanation for that.

In order to improve your physical health, you need to push your body to a certain level where your muscles get stronger, which often requires moving from one routine to another when working out. When your muscles engage in activities that require more effort and movement, your muscles contract and they cause microscopic tears along the muscles and nearby tissues. This is also known as DOMS or delayed onset muscular soreness. It is the discomfort you feel after working out, and will usually peak around 24-72 hours after. During this time, it can be difficult to identify if it is just muscle soreness, or if you already are experiencing pain from an injury. Your muscles will be tender to touch, and feel tighter than usual. 

This period after working out is when you should be paying more attention to your body. There is a fine line between pain and soreness, and you will need to understand the difference in order to prevent serious injuries. Failure to tell soreness apart from injury pain can be a cause for temporary to permanent damage to your muscles and tissues, and can prevent you from being able to engage in further physical activity.

The first thing to note when trying to distinguish your after work out discomfort is the length of time. Normal soreness from engaging in physical activities do not last more than a few days. Soreness will make it difficult for you to function normally and partake in everyday activities, but will not last more than three days. The discomfort would come on quickly while still exercising or shortly after. The soreness also decreases gradually, and should not feel sharper or stronger as the days go by.

As you count more days after your workout, the discomfort should be lessened. Your body will slowly return to its normal state, allowing you to function normally and engage in your daily activities again. If it goes beyond a few days, or the pain feels sharper or stronger as you go on, you may want to rest and assess the situation. Pain that increases and lasts longer than a few days is often a sign of a much more serious situation going on inside, along your muscles, bones and tissues. While every individual reacts differently to pain and injury, it still is a reason to give your medical practitioner a visit for a complete assessment and diagnosis, to prevent further damage.

After carefully assessing the situation and identifying if the discomfort you are experiencing is pain from an injury or simple muscle soreness due to DOMS and you have confirmed that it is not normal, there are a few things you could consider for relief.

You can begin by using ice and heat therapy to relieve pain, depending on the severity. When done properly, it can save you from unnecessary damages and trips to the emergency room. Ice therapy is mostly used to reduce swelling and pain and is best applied to acute or new injuries like muscle or joint sprain. It is also best to limit your sessions to 20 minutes each to avoid causing damage to your skin or tissues. Heat therapy, on the other hand, is more used to relieve chronic pain or conditions like injuries that have gone untreated and stiffness of muscles. It is beneficial for these situations because heat allows your blood vessels to relax and it increases blood circulation, giving the opposite effect of ice therapy. Just like ice therapy, heat is best applied only a maximum of 20 minutes per session, to avoid blisters and burns on the skin.

More often than not, injuries from physical activities get better with ice and heat therapy, especially when done at the right time. In some cases where it does not, when pain persists and an individual does not feel relief about a week or two after consistently doing ice and heat therapy on injured areas, the next best step is to visit a physical therapist so the problem can immediately be identified and the right actions can be taken to improve your condition.

Physical therapists help you identify what led to the injury, manage the pain, and better understand the ways to overcome your injury and how to avoid the situation in the future. They will give you a plan that will work with your body’s condition and still give you the results you have been trying to achieve.