Is it muscle soreness or pain?

Anthony Crespo
Anthony Crespo Clinic Manager at AHS

Is it muscle soreness or pain?

 At Allied Health Solutions we help many individuals identify and overcome their pain. In particular our athletic population is far more accustomed to soreness and are well aware of the difference but in some cases our general population have a hard time differentiating the two. Fortunately there are some key characteristics that make it easy for us to distinguish the two.


One major difference to keep in mind is the time. Typically delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS that develop after physical activity lingers for only about 3 – 5 days. As the name implies the sensation of soreness is delayed and not always immediate and can show up 1 – 2 days after strenuous physical activity. With regards to injury there is no real delay and will occur quickly while performing physical activity or shortly after. The pain from injury will stretch beyond the estimated time DOMS are supposed to subside.

How to alleviate muscle soreness 

Unfortunately one cannot simply avoid muscle soreness; it is a part of the process of getting stronger and overall healthier. There are things however that one can do to alleviate the sensation and those are: 

  • Muscle massage
  • Rest
  • Ice to help inflammation
  • OTC creams and gels (ex. IcyHot)

How to alleviate muscle pain

The steps to alleviating muscle pain are vastly similar to alleviating muscle soreness. The most common treatment approach is ice and heat therapy. The effectiveness of these therapies greatly depend on the severity of the injury.


Ice for the most part should be applied to an acute or new injury, like a muscle or joint sprain. Ice helps by constructing the blood vessels to aid in the reduction of any swelling. It is important to note that you should be cautious when using ICE for pain management. There is a point of diminishing returns where the icing could be causing more harm than good. For this reason it is recommended to keep your icing sessions no more than 20 minutes to avoid any tissue damage.


Heat should typically be applied to areas that experience chronic pain not new injuries. Heat therapy is very beneficial for stiff joints and muscle pain because it relaxes the blood vessels and increases circulation which is the opposite effect of ice therapy. As mentioned it is not recommended to heat fresh injuries and the sessions should be limited to no more than 20 minutes and always be mindful of the temperature to prevent burns and blisters.   



(1) Person. (2018, February 20). How to know the difference between soreness and pain. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from,and%20avoid%20pain%20and%20injury.&text=Ice%20and%20heat%20therapy%20can,the%20injury%2C%20when%20done%20properly.

(2) Staff, F. (2020, June 09). Sore muscles from exercise. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from

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