Am I sore or am I injured?

You worked out a couple days ago and are feeling a lingering ache. Did you accidentally pull something during your workout, or is it just normal, to-be-expected soreness?

Aches after a workout can feel similar whether they’re caused by an injury or just the workout itself. However, there are a few simple ways to tell the difference between the two.

Normal post-workout aches

Have you ever heard the acronym DOMS? Probably not, but if you exercise regularly, you’ve likely experienced it.

DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, which often affects exercisers after a particularly strenuous or new workout routine.

It can occur after any workout but is most common after activities that cause the muscles to lengthen while force is applied, such as strength training, jogging or aerobics. When muscles are put under tension, tiny micro tears occur in the muscles. This is normal and positive — you are getting stronger.

Here are some tell-tale markers of DOMS:

  • Affects only the muscles
  • Causes tenderness when touching muscles, a burning feeling or fatigue during a workout, and a tight, achy feeling while resting
  • Typically begins within hours and lasts up to three to five days
  • Generally peaks around one to three days after a workout

You can alleviate aches caused by DOMS by slowly easing into new exercise programs. Warm up exercises, stretching, and the use of a foam roller after working out may also help.

You can resume working out whenever your body feels ready. If the ache lasts a few days, you might consider focusing on a different area of the body in your next workout.

Pain and perhaps injury

Sometimes it’s clear when you’re injured — for example, when something is broken or quickly swells. Other times, like with a sprain or strain, the difference between soreness and pain is subtler.

There are a few key signs of injury:

  • Can affect muscles, joints, bones or ligaments
  • Causes a sharp pain that occurs when at rest and when moving
  • Worsens with continued activity
  • May interfere with normal movements of daily life
  • Typically begins during exercise or within 24 hours
  • Generally lingers for days or even weeks

So when should you seek medical attention?

That largely depends on the severity of your pain and how long it lasts. If your pain is extreme or it lasts for more than four or five days, check with your doctor. He or she will be able to identify the source of your pain and offer suggestions for treatment.

If you feel pain rather than just soreness, it’s important not to return to working out until the pain alleviates. Pushing through pain or an injury can lead to a more severe injury.

If you suffer an injury and can’t get a quick appointment with your primary care provider, Erlanger Health System can help. And if your injury is more severe and you need immediate medical attention, we offer orthopaedic coverage around-the-clock in our emergency rooms.