Good Vs Bad Post-Workout Pain: How To Know The Difference

And prevent major injuries!

sore back
Image: iStock

We’ve all heard the age old saying ‘no pain, no gain’ and whilst muscle soreness can be a very normal result of a great workout, it can also be the sign of a more serious injury. So, how do you differentiate between ‘good’ pain and ‘bad ‘pain? We’ve called upon PT and fitness expert, Sam Wood to help us out:

Good Pain:

One type of pain that is often overlooked but is really beneficial is the good pain of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, seeing what you can achieve, and getting that good hurt going.


First up, there’s everyone’s favourite; DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It’s a muscle pain and stiffness resulting from micro-trauma to muscles caused by strenuous or unfamiliar exercise. It’s the type of pain that goes away after 48-72 hours. To understand DOMS, we need to understand the process of building, strengthening and toning muscle. When we push our muscles to their limits, we get micro tears in the muscle tissue. With good nutrition and recovery, the tears repair a little bit bigger, firmer and stronger each time we put the muscle under the same stress. This is what we want: putting the body under stress to elicit a response and change. Enough quality workouts strung together will bring about changes greater than most of us realise.

Soreness on both sides of your body

For example, if just one shoulder or one quad is hurting, that could be a sign of an injury as opposed to general muscle soreness. If you’ve got two sore hammies or two tight calves, it’s likely you just gave both of those muscles a great workout!

Image: iStock

Bad Pain:

Sharp pain

Sharp pain is not a normal thing to experience during or post workout. If you’re experiencing sharp pains, this is a physiological response that is indicating something is off. If it’s a one off sharp pain that isn’t felt again, especially when moving the particular area that experienced the pain, it could be an anomaly and nothing to stress about. However, if the pain continues or can be felt when moving that muscle/joint; get a professional medical opinion ASAP before continuing exercise.

Pain with swelling

If any part of your body is swelling, that’s usually an indicator that something isn’t right. You may not have sustained a serious injury, but inflammation (like swelling) is our body trying to heal and a good sign that you should give that body part a rest. If swelling continues or comes back, you’ve probably injured that particular tissue.

Joint pain

Joint pain is a kind of pain that really shouldn’t be ignored. Knee, ankle and wrist pain are common types of joint pain that need to be taken seriously as these joints are not covered and protected by muscle. High-impact exercises often contribute to joint injuries so reducing the impact of movements can be helpful in injury prevention.

Pain that doesn’t go away

Muscle soreness is common and can be a normal side-effect of training. However, pain that does not go away is often a sign of something more serious. If that little niggle is still there more than 72 hours later… it might be time to seek an expert opinion.
Sometimes sore muscles are simply unavoidable and can serve as a reminder of the hard yards you’ve put in with your training. There are, however, some tips and tricks you can use to help reduce or ease muscle soreness. Make sure you do a dynamic warm up and always cool down with some post workout stretches. When in doubt, foam roll it out! My foam roller is my best friend and worst enemy and you can’t go past a spiky ball for getting into those tricky tight spots. If the pain doesn’t go away after 72 hours or worsens over time, get it looked at ASAP.
Happy training!
sam wood
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