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Normal signs of exercise-induced soreness vs. injury-related pain

It is important to recognize the difference between injury-related pain and generalized soreness that is associated with an increase in activity. When it comes to physical therapy, our goal is to increase range of motion as well as strength in order to have better motion and function.

However, there will be some generalized soreness that accompanies an increase in physical activity. Because the area already having pain, generalized muscle soreness can sometimes masquerade as pain resulting from your injury. It is important to be able to differentiate between the two. In fact, moving a muscle or joint that has general soreness can actually help to reduce the overall effect.

Normal muscle soreness tends to occur in the belly of the muscle as opposed to around a joint. It can also appear to change during workout intensity, duration or modality. It will typically improve after a warm-up or after gentle range of motion. As a general rule, generalized muscle soreness should not affect your form or prevent you from completing the full range of exercise.

However, that is not always the case. We tend to see increase of motion and better form following the completion of exercise. This is largely due to the way our muscle works. We have a natural relaxation phase that is built into our muscle’s firing cycle. When we contract a muscle, it will tighten. Following the completion of the contraction, the muscle will relax, allowing us to gain further motion and better movement. Our muscles are rather pliable and need to move in order to function properly. If you were going to go for a run, wouldn't you start with gentle stretching and warm-up?

Regardless, if your pain is normalized muscle soreness or resulting from an injury, you may still suffer from muscle guarding. This can influence motion as well as function of surrounding tissues and joints. For more information on muscle guarding you can check out my previous blog. It is important to recognize muscle soreness and separating it from pain resulting from an injury or chronic pain.

Physical therapy works on strengthening weak muscles, so don’t be surprised if the first week of increased activity causes an increase in muscle soreness. This is completely normal. If you have any questions please schedule an appointment to see one of our chiropractic physicians.

Normal Signs of Soreness

1. Felt on both sides of the body

2. Felt in the center of a muscle

3. Appears after change in workout intensity, duration, or modality

4. Improves after warm-up

5. Improves daily

6. Doesn’t affect your form

7. Generalized

— From The Athletes Guide to Recovery

S.Rountree, 2011

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