Soreness vs. Pain: What's The Difference

Soreness vs. Pain: What's The Difference

April 29, 2018

Soreness vs. Pain: What's The Difference

We've all felt soreness, and we've all felt pain, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Especially when you're in a workout and the instructor yells something along the lines of, "push through the pain! But if it's painful don't push!" We have been conditioned to push through pain to gain strength, but how do we know if we're pushing too hard? Or already pushed too hard? It's a fine line because soreness can be painful, right? So, how do we know when it's your typical soreness after a workout or whether it's something that seeks medical attention?

Here is a break down of the difference of the soreness and pain.

Soreness: How is it Different from Pain?

Soreness after or during workouts is normal. Soreness is due to creating micro-tears in the muscles that you're working. Now micro-tears might sound dangerous and painful, but they are small, safe and completely normal when working out. These micro tears are what causes soreness, yes, but they are also what makes your muscle rebuild and become stronger. Muscle soreness is typically it's worst 24-72 hours after the workout, this is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and again, is entirely normal. Your muscles will recover, and you'll be back at the leg press, free weights, running—in no time.

Yes, soreness can be painful! Usually feels like a like a dull ache, sore to the touch can be harder to get up and down, but most importantly it should be temporary. Pain on the other hand...

Pain: How Do You Know When It's Not Normal Soreness

Pain is when that soreness doesn't go away, and instead of micro-tears to the muscle, there is a possibility you damaged muscles, tissues or joints. Pain can happen more immediately than soreness. It could happen in one move in a workout class or shortly after a run. Unlike muscle soreness, pain is usually sharp and lingering. If it continues to last you should seek medical attention.

The major differences Between Soreness and Pain:

A shortcut: Soreness is normal. Pain is not. Below is a graph by the American Physical Therapy Association that explains the difference between pain and normal soreness.

Difference Between Pain and Soreness

Use this handy table to determine whether you have run of the mill muscle soreness, or pain that requires medical treatment.


Muscle Soreness


Type of discomfort

Tender when touching muscles, tired or burning feeling while exercising, minimal dull, tight and achy feeling at rest

Ache, sharp pain at rest or when exercising

Onset Ache, sharp pain at rest or when exercising During exercise or within 24 hours of activity
Duration 2-3 Days May linger if not addressed
Location Muscles Muscles or joints
Improves With Stretching, following movement, topical pain medication like CopperGel or CopperGel Ice Ice, rest, medication
Worsens With Sitting still Continued activity
Appropriate Action Resume offending activity when soreness subsides Consult with medical professional if pain is extreme or lasts >1-2 weeks

Since muscle soreness is temporary, you usually don't need anything prescribed or any strong medication. Topical muscle creams are generally the best, most effective option for temporary relief. There are MANY options for topical muscle relief. One of the newest one to the market is CopperGel, which unlike others uses the healing benefits of copper to help with muscle soreness. 

What to do about Pain:

If the pain is persistent and lingering, please notify your doctor or seek medical attention. If you're dealing with pain that is not workout induced and is more chronic, like arthritis, topical relief might be the right option for you as well. 

How does Topical Relief help?

Topical relief, such as CopperGel, works with ingredients like Menthol and CopperGel to diffuse pain. According to information published by the National Institutes of Health, copper is "involved in numerous physiological and metabolic processes critical for the appropriate functioning of almost all tissues in the human body."

Copper has many health benefits; Copper is an essential nutrient for the human body critical to the formation of red blood cells. Copper also helps form collagen, a crucial part of bones and connective tissue. Copper works deeper to relieve pain. Copper paired with the healing properties of menthol, which cause the cooling sensation on the skin, make CopperGel a complete KnockOut when it comes to managing muscle soreness and chronic pain.

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