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As worrisome as it may seem, the soreness you feel after exercising is completely normal. So much so, that pretty much everyone who has ever worked out has felt the same soreness. This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It occurs after the body goes through an unfamiliar strenuous workout, usually affecting the person the next day. While the exact cause has never been distinguished, the most agreed upon theory is that the muscle fiber experiences small rips and wounds that causes the affected muscles to feel sore. Once the muscle begins to mend, to the pain subsides.

While the idea of your muscles tearing is a scary one, it’s actually perfectly normal. The damage is microscopic, and it doesn’t cause your muscles any lasting damage. Once your body starts getting used to your new exercise routine, the soreness will quickly subside.         

Knowing the Difference Between Soreness and Pain

While understanding that soreness it completely natural, feeling pain during and after exercising is not. A few of the key differences between DOMS and pain is:

DOMS is Moderate. Muscle soreness will make your muscles feel sore, achy, and stiff, but should not cause you unbearable pain. If you do feel pain, especially if the pain is in the joints, then you should visit a doctor.

Pain Can Happen Immediately. If you feel pain during an exercise, then it’s not muscle soreness. DOMS is delayed, so it doesn’t occur while exercising. If you feel any pain while exercising, whether it be moderate or severe, stop immediately.

DOMS goes away. Muscle soreness should fade away within one to two days, and doesn’t leave any lasting issues. If pain felt after exercising doesn’t abate, then you should visit a doctor.

Some afflictions that may cause pain caused by exercising can include: pulled muscles, pinched nerves, and joint pain. Any pain, no matter how subtle, shouldn’t be ignored, especially if you feel it every time you work out. You should be extremely cautious of any pain felt in the head, neck, back, or ankles. The most important thing to remember when exercising is to know your limits. The majority of the time, pains are not only caused by exercise, but instead other pre-existing conditions. If you know you have joint issues, then participate in low-impact exercises like Tai Chi. If you have asthma or lung issues, be sure to pace yourself and take frequent breaks when doing strenuous exercise. Take an interest in learning about your body’s limitations, and always listen to your body when you feel like you have to pull back. When exercising, always start slow, and work yourself up at your own pace.