Injury vs. Soreness: How to tell the Difference

Injury vs. Soreness: How to tell the Difference

How do you tell the difference between an injury and soreness?

If you had a killer lower body session on Monday, you may find it a bit tricky to walk up or down the stairs on Tuesday or Wednesday.

It may feel as though you want to take it easy or “baby” the area but the best thing to help with soreness is to continue moving. This doesn’t necessarily mean calling it a quits at extra cardio is the answer, but continuing to move your body will be key for the soreness to dissipate. Quality rest and hydration will also be extremely beneficial. If you are having trouble recovering from training-related soreness, it may be due to overtraining.

Soreness is something you can anticipate in any workout routine, especially one where you’re doing movements that are activating muscles that aren’t always being worked. So to some degree, a little discomfort is normal. But, you may be getting some huge red flags from your body. So with all of that being said, can you tell the difference between an injury and soreness?

If you answered no to that question, we’ve got you covered!

Soreness resulting from a training session often will present one to two days after the session.

This will be particularly noticeable if it is a new training stimulus or you are returning to training from a hiatus. This is what’s typically referred to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). 

It was once thought that a buildup of exercise-induced lactic acid was to blame for DOMS, but this common misconception has been debunked. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Muscles that feel tender to the touch
  • Reduced range of motion due to pain and stiffness when moving
  • Swelling in the affected muscles
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Short-term loss of muscle strength


An injury, however, can come on suddenly or present after a training session. With soreness, the pain is often more generalized/all over the body, and correlates to the muscles trained, whereas pain with an injury will usually be more localized. It can also present as more of an intense stabbing pain and be accompanied by redness or swelling.

How do I recover from soreness?

For starters, to minimize soreness and avoid injury, ensure you’re warming up prior to your training session and stretching/foam rolling after. Focus on stability and proper form within your exercises and have a great workout!

There are a few key steps to recovering, and if you’re tired of hearing us talk about protein intake you will hate this. But, the bandaid to your muscles is protein, so beef up that protein intake! Also, stretch, but not too much, as that can cause more strain on your muscles. You’ll want to stay moving as well, but take on a lighter load in the gym until you recover. Soreness typically will not exceed 5 days, so this shouldn’t impact your fitness routine too much!

How do I recover from a fitness-related injury?

First things first, you should know how to prevent an injury. To do this, and decrease DOMS, remember to always:

  • Stay hydrated. This means before, during, and after exercise.
  • Warmup. 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching is best. No need for static stretching until after your workout is complete.
  • Cool down. Always end your cool down with static stretching. It won’t prevent soreness completely, but it can help with flexibility in your joints and muscles.
  • Take it slowly. Level up your intensity just a little bit at a time. That way, you'll build your strength and endurance while minimizing the effects of DOMS.

In the case that you are injured, don’t attempt to push through your typical workout routine. Engage in light movement if possible, and keep ice on the injury as opposed to heat. Heat often causes inflammation!

When do I need to seek medical help?

This most likely will not be the case, but here’s when you need to be concerned about DOMS or an injury:

  • DOMS is lasting longer than 5-7 days
  • Urine is abnormally dark
  • Swelling occurs in your arms or legs
  • Sharp pain, muscle spasms, and numbness or tingling occur in the place of regular muscle soreness

In short, the main difference between soreness and an injury is that soreness *will* eventually subside whereas an injury may not without medical intervention. If you suspect you have an injury, discontinue any exercise or movement that exacerbates it, take some extra rest days, and seek professional medical advice.