Am I experiencing muscle soreness (DOMS), or am I injured?
Injuries are usually instant pain, or very soon after finishing exercise. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) usually kicks in the day after, sometimes even two or three days later. DOMS can hang around for a few days, whereas injuries can have a much longer recovery time. DOMS can become worse from sitting still/inactivity, whereas injuries can become worse from continuing activity.
How can you know the difference?
Generally, muscle soreness (or DOMS) feels more like a tightening/restriction of movement, whereas injuries will generally be painful, and potentially swollen. Injuries can often send pain impulses through the body, whereas muscle soreness can tighten up the surrounding fascia and muscles. It is best to tune into your body, and mentally check in with the area – does this feel like discomfort, or pain?
So what can you do?
For DOMS, stretching and foam rolling can be great at times, but when very sore, they aren’t always the best go-tos. Think about the area as a t-shirt with a hole in it; although it might be satisfying to pull that thread, sometimes you might make the hole bigger.
Usually, getting blood flow to the area is the best good idea – this could mean a gentle walk, or using heat packs.
For an injury, it is best to ice the area to help with any potential swelling, and then get assessed by a professional. Having a relationship with a great physiotherapist is key here. A good physio doesn’t always recommend strict rest. In my experience, it’s always good to be proactive and ask, “what should I be avoiding right now/for how long?” and also “what can I continue doing?”
I also wrote an article a few years back on using soreness as an indicator to whether it means you didn’t try hard enough, if this helps, too: https://boxitout.com.au/im-not-sore-does-that-mean-i-didnt-try-hard-enough/
Owner, Personal Trainer & Dream Coach