I often get asked at what point a person should come in to see me for treatment for any variety of aches and pains, so I figured I would lay out a few guidelines for helping you distinguish regular soreness from something that should be investigated.
1. Pain on one side of the body – After a workout or activity, you are more likely to experience general soreness equal on both sides. If the pain is on one side of the body, it can be an early warning sign of poor form or impending injury.
2. Pain near joints/tendons – Typical muscle soreness is generally felt near the center of a muscle, not towards the end where the tendons and ligaments are. Pain close to joints and tendons is worth getting checked out before it gets serious.
3. Pain that occurs every day – Increased or unusual pain that comes on after an increase in intensity or duration of one of your workouts is to be expected, but you should definitely keep an eye on it if it persists for more than 72 hours. Pain that occurs on a daily basis is always getting looked at.
4. Pain that worsens during activity – If the pain you are experiencing does not go away after doing a good warm up, or the corrective exercises you have been recommended, then you should stop doing that activity immediately to prevent further injury and get it treated.
5. Pain that affects form/gait/posture – Our bodies are amazing compensation machines that will find ways to work around areas of pain and dysfunction. Unfortunately these workarounds can lead to pain and injury in areas that were perfectly healthy before the original pain began. If you can’t sit, stand, walk, run, etc. with good form due to pain, then it is time to come get it worked out before returning to that activity.
6. Pain that is localized (pin-point) – Generalized muscle soreness is a very common side effect to training or participating in new activities. If the pain you are experiencing is very localized, then there is a chance that it could be something more like a sprain/strain or some other injury that could warrant a visit and some activity modifications.
Those are some pretty simple rules-of-thumb when it comes to distinguishing regular muscle soreness from pain being generated from more serious injuries.
A good way to self treat muscle soreness is to do some light foam rolling of the areas that are sore, take a soak or two in a warm Epsom salt bath, and do a low intensity workout that requires you to move your whole body.
I hope that these tips help you have more confidence when deciding if your pain is something you can work through, or if you need care. When in doubt, listen to your body. If you are concerned about something, come have it checked out!