If you love exercising, you’ve been there. You have definitely woken up the day after an intense workout sore, achy, and exhausted. And you’ve assumed that soreness is normal, almost a badge of honor. Right?

But sometimes that soreness seems just a little bit more intense than usual. If you’ve been in a place where you can’t tell if you’re sore or injured, you’re not alone. 

So how can you tell if it’s just regular old soreness or something more serious? And then what can you do about it?

Let’s look at the common symptoms of soreness, injury, and a few different methods for pain relief.

What is Soreness?

Before we discuss what they look and feel like, let’s take a look at what these terms themselves mean.

Soreness is simply defined as “pain in a part of one’s body.”

Clear as mud, right?

In a more medical sense, when we refer to soreness, we’re usually talking about a general discomfort in a muscle area.

What is an Injury?

The definition of injury is a tiny bit more specific, and means “an act that damages or hurts.”

Injuries are considered more acute and we usually figure out the cause of them. If you’ve ever been injured, you know the process of diagnosis and treatment was very different from that of regular old soreness.

Let’s get into some comparisons of the two concerning symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Breaking it Down by Symptom

In order to get a specific look at the differences between these two problems, let’s look at what they present as, first.

When Does it Start?

A big difference between general soreness and a specific injury is determining when it started. These two can easily be dissected by this piece of information.


Soreness begins usually within 24-72 hours after a specific event. 

More often than not, the soreness comes a day after exercise. A key thing to remember about soreness is that it’s more delayed and you can trace it back to something you did physically.


Injury, on the other hand, typically occurs immediately or soon after the event.

If you’ve broken a bone or torn a ligament, you know the moment it happens. It presents itself immediately and is pretty much impossible to ignore.

What Does it Feel Like?

A good indicator of whether you’re injured or just sore is to determine what the pain you’re experiencing feels like.

These two can feel similar to many people, depending on your pain tolerance and other factors.


Soreness ranges in severity but usually stays in the “aching/ mildly uncomfortable” range.

Soreness presents as muscle tenderness after a workout, or slight burning or a tight sensation if you work out while already sore.

The key to this is that it’s mild.


An injury feels more specific and intense. 

Injuries hurt bad, and they hurt immediately. With a few exceptions, injuries will hurt worse than regular soreness.

How Long Does it Last?

These two last for very different amounts of time. The duration of your pain can be a good indicator of what sort of pain you’re dealing with. 


In general, soreness will only last you between two and three days. It will resolve itself on its own, lessening in intensity over time.


Injury pain could last an infinite amount of time. If your injury is severe enough, it won’t go away until the root cause of the pain is resolved.

It will also only get worse the longer it goes untreated.

Where is It?

The location of the pain is important to receive a proper diagnosis. 


Soreness will usually only occur in the muscles. This means it can happen in your shoulders, neck, legs, and arms.

This symptom will occur in a more general sense over the area of muscle it is affecting.


An injury could happen in the muscle, which can be difficult to identify against general soreness.

However, if your pain is in your joint or connective tissue, it’s more likely to be caused by a specific injury.

For instance, if your ankle is in a lot of pain, that’s most likely an injury since it’s in a joint.

When Is It Worse?

Take note of when your pain gets worse in these 2 instances.


If you’re just sore, you’ll notice the pain the most when you’re just sitting down doing nothing. It can present as a more extreme aching when you sit still that nags at you.


If you have an injury, movement and exertion will make the issue worse. You’ll notice pain most when you’re moving around, walking, or doing any type of activity.

When Is It Better?

You should pay attention to when your pain is worse, but it’s just as important to notice when the pain lessens or gets better.


Soreness will get better with stretching and moving around. Of course, if you are sore, you should still rest to give your muscles the opportunity to recover. But they will be less painful when moving around.


With an injury expect the exact opposite. Most injuries will only feel better when the affected area is resting and moving as little as possible.

What Causes It?

Soreness and injury can technically be caused by the same thing, but the difference is intensity.


Soreness is usually caused by some sort of intense or long exercise

When you go for a run or try out a new challenging yoga pose, your muscles are undergoing a bit of new stress. This can cause them to become fatigued and tired while they adjust.


Injuries are caused by misuse of the muscle or joint. They can be inflicted during intense sports or by trauma caused by blunt force like one would experience in a car wreck or fistfight.

No matter how a person acquires an injury, they are more specific and caused by something essentially going very wrong.


The most important thing to know how to do is treat the issue you have. Soreness and injury require different treatments, so make sure to use the right one.


With soreness, you have a few options in treatment.

You could always just take a few ibuprofen and call it a day. Many people also find it good to stretch before and after a workout to keep their muscles limber and prevent injury.

One of the best ways to treat common muscle soreness is to use a therapeutic massage gun to stimulate circulation. These wonderful new devices help break up lactic acid and promote quicker muscle healing, meaning a shorter recovery time.


As for injury, you should always consider seeing a doctor.

They can accurately diagnose what the root cause of your pain is and provide you with the best resources for a successful healing journey.

Identify the Issue, Then Create a Treatment Plan

Hopefully, this guide helped you discover whether that pain is just soreness or possibly something more serious.

Now that you know what the issue is, you can create a treatment plan for yourself or with a doctor.