The weather is warming up, it’s time to get the garden in order, or begin that project or maybe you’ve decided it’s time to get into shape. If you aren’t ready for a big increase in activity or movement you may feel it the next day in the form of soreness or pain. Is there a difference?

Muscular soreness is a healthy and expected result of doing a new movement or exercise. Pain is not a healthy response which can indicate you may have overdone it.

Everyone’s body is different. What our strength level is, how old we are, and how active we are all set our level for activity, what our body is used to handling. Staying on the safe side of your level may result in some soreness, but not pain. As you do more and more of an activity, like gardening, walking or some other new movement, your threshold increases and you are more able to handle those activities or movements.

How can you tell the difference between soreness and pain? This table may help:

  Muscle Soreness Pain
How it feels Tender when you touch the muscle, tired or burning when doing a new movement or activity. May ache at rest Ache, sharp pain at rest and when doing activity such as exercise
Onset During activity or 24-72 hours after During the activity or within 24 hours
Duration Feels better after 2-3 days (48 hours is generally the peak) Will linger if not addressed, may get slightly better, but then become worse
Location Muscles Muscles or joints
Feels better with Moving, walking, stretching Ice, rest, movement doesn’t make it feel much better
Worsens with Sitting still Continued activity or movement that caused pain
What to do Slowly start the movement or activity when soreness subsides, take it easy to begin with. If pain becomes worse, or lasts more than 10 days to 2 weeks, consult a medical professional


In the unfortunate situation when exercise leads to an injury, a physical therapist can assist in your recovery in many ways. They will help with initial pain management, identify and address all factors that may have contributed to your injury to prevent further problems and they can also provide specific recommendations regarding reintegration into exercise as appropriate.

If you have pain you feel isn’t getting better, check with your physician and ask for a referral to see a physical therapist (PT). PTs can help you understand, manage, and treat the pain. Call North Country Rehabilitation if you further questions 802-334-3206.

Reference: Soreness vs pain: What’s the difference? Move Forward APTA. Retrieved from

Katesel Strimbeck PT, MS is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital. Katesel has been a practicing PT for 19 years. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).