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The difference between soreness and pain
The difference between soreness and pain

Spot the difference between pain and soreness.

Ben avatar
Written by Ben
Updated over a week ago

Training for any sort of goal is demanding and requires us to follow our plans closely, to get the best possible result. But make no mistake, running is a tiring sport that demands a lot from us and our training. We're continuously asking our bodies to adapt and perform for us and we need to give them time to adequately recover. We're all focused on improving our times and distances but there's another skill that we should develop, that'll make us better runners. Listening to our bodies is a skill that we develop over time and through experience and we don't always get it right.

We're going to take a deep dive into how to understand what our body is telling us, whether we're at a normal level of tiredness, feeling excessive soreness, an undue level of tightness, or are at risk of injury.

Let's start by understanding what our baseline level of tiredness is (plot twist, this is different for everyone), and whilst this will vary from person to person, there are some common through-lines that all of us experience. In the early stages of our running journeys, it's very normal to experience a higher level of muscle soreness than we're used to, especially if we haven't been running a lot up to this point or are new to following a structured plan.

Here are some of the common sensations that you can expect to feel when embarking on your running journey.

Muscles are aching, that you never knew existed! When we start running more consistently it's very normal to experience some soreness in the key muscle groups that we use when we run. That makes sense, right? Our quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves are working really hard when we run and they will be repaired in between our sessions.

Soreness vs pain:

Let's start with the symptoms of muscle soreness. You can expect the following

  • The stiff feeling or feeling in the muscle or body part should pass after a day or two. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can occur after a tough session and should improve after some light exercise, stretching or time.

  • Soreness shouldn't get in the way of your day-to-day life. Whilst walking up and down stairs may prove difficult after a tough session, it shouldn't restrict your life.

  • Foam rolling, a massage, and stretching should all improve the symptoms.

Soreness' ugly cousin, pain. What should we be looking out for?

  • Pain often comes in the form of a stabbing sensation or a sharp pain in the muscle or body part.

  • DOMS that lasts more than a few days. Fatigue should have subsided in this time and if you're still feeling pain after some rest and stretching, there may be something more sinister at play.

  • It's not always easy to see pain, but if bruising or local swelling appears, this isn't everyday soreness.

  • Pain that affects our gait and typical running style.

  • Pain that doesn't only occur when running. It's easy to only identify pain when we're running, but sensations that occur when we're not running are not likely to be soreness and could indicate something more serious.

It can be so hard to listen to our bodies, especially when it means taking time away from doing something we love. However, it's important to have a good radar of what is normal and what isn't, and that's not an exact science. Most of us have trained through a feeling that we thought was just a common ache or sensation, which has later developed into an injury. The most important run you'll do is your next one, and there is little to be gained by grinning and bearing pain, for the sake of it. Take the time to understand how your body adapts to training, when you feel particularly tired or when you've done a particularly taxing session. It can be upsetting to cut a session short, but if it allows us to remain fit and tackle the next one, it's worth it.

If you want to take your recovery further, click the link below, to learn how to get the most out of your time.

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