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Muscle pain: when is it something serious?

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Keen to know how to differentiate between a normal niggle and an actual injury after a workout? Here are some signs, symptoms and need-to-know info.

Experiencing a bit of muscle soreness in the days after exercise isn’t uncommon – in fact there’s even an official name for it: delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Caused by microscopic tears in the fibres of your muscles, it usually lasts three to five days and doesn’t require expert treatment to send it on its way.

But there are some signs to look out for that you’ve pushed yourself too far or that it might even be something more serious. Here are a few facts to consider when trying to decide whether it’s something you should consider seeking advice or treatment for.

DOMS pain sets in 12-24 hours after you’ve been exercising.

So, if you’re working out and experience an acute, sudden or sharp pain in one of your muscles, that’s more likely to be a sign of an actual injury like a muscle strain or even a sprain, rather than a sign that you’ve simply overdone it a bit.

Where the pain occurs matters, too.

If it’s less ‘general muscle pain’, and more localised pain near a joint or along the line of a bone, that could be an early sign of an injury.

If you’re struggling to go about your day as usual, you’ve pushed too hard.

In other words, if the post-workout pain you’re experiencing is preventing you from carrying out your daily activities as you normally would, that’s a sign that you’ve overdone it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve experienced an injury, but it’s something to bear in mind. And remember, you don’t have to experience any DOMS in order for a workout to be ‘effective’ so while it’s not uncommon, it’s not necessarily something to strive for when you’re exercising, either.

If the pain seems unbearable, seek medical advice.

If the pain you’re experiencing post workout is what you’d describe as ‘debilitating’, make sure you get it checked out by your doctor or a physiotherapist. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Likewise, if you experience severe swelling.

Minor swelling isn’t uncommon with a mild, nothing-to-worry about case of DOMS, but if it’s severe or starts to affect your range or movement, seek medical advice.

And, if it’s still sore after five days, ask for an expert opinion.

As we’ve mentioned above, run-of-the-mill DOMS pain tends to set in 12-24 hours after a strenuous exercise session and typically resolves itself in three, four or five days. If you’re still suffering after that amount of time has lapsed, and it doesn’t at least feel like it’s getting any better, it’s a good idea to get it checked out .

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