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Have You Hurt Your Muscles Or Are They Just Sore? Here's How To Tell

July 29, 2015 3 min read

It sounds like a ridiculous question, one you may be afraid to actually ask, but are you hurt or just sore? It can be hard to tell! It might seem like nothing but it could be a major injury. And ladies, you need to be extra careful because according to Jordan Metzl, M.D., a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, women have a higher pain threshold and are more likely to push through minor aches that can lead to major ones. Check out this guide to find out if you need to be giving yourself a little break:

You're Hurt

Okay, so some injuries are obvious. Maybe you wiped out on your bike and hear your arm snap as you broke your fall. That's a no brainer. But maybe you rolled your ankle while playing pick up basketball or your shins are sore during your run. You're probably dealing with a minor acute injury or an overuse injury. An overuse injury is common in activities that involve repetitive motion.

How to get better:

For the first 48 hours, ice the injury a few times a day to reduce swelling, says Metzl. Or, you can wrap it with a compression bandage and elevate it when possible. The pain should disappear after a few days. Until the pain goes away, focus on things that are unlikely to make it worse. Like, pedalling a stationary bike which can actually help circulation and improve the injury.

How to get back in the game:

Ease back in. Start out by doing 25-50% of your normal output and increase 10% per week. Initial discomfort is okay but check with your doctor if you are experiencing pain. You may actually have an injury that will do nothing but snowball if left alone. For example, pushing yourself through shin splints that lead to a stress fracture which can set you back 4-6 weeks.

You're Sore

Okay, so it takes you 5 minutes to get out of bed in the morning and you're performing a strange waddle when walking down stairs. You are likely dealing with delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It happens from tearing the muscle fibers needed to shape your gorgeous glutes, for example. This can happen anytime you increase the frequency, duration or intensity of your workouts.

How to get better:

DOMS presents as extreme or atypical soreness, stiffness in the the joints and tenderness. It appears 12-24 hours of your sweat session and can worsen over the course of 3 days before it gets better. Do yourself a favour and stay hydrated and don't skip out on sleep. If the pain lasts longer than 5 days, seek medical attention as you may have a muscle or tendon tear.

How to get back in the game:

No need to sit things out but do pay close attention to your form during your workouts. "When you're aching, you might adjust how you move to lessen discomfort, but this forces muscles and joints to work in ways they're not used to, putting extra stress on them," says exercise physiologist Jacque Crockford. And be careful not to overstretch. Trying to push through a stretch when your muscles feel like they might pop can actually damage muscle fibers and cause injury. Does that help you out? If you're sore, good on ya, it is working! Don't quit! If you're hurt, take the time you need. No sense getting worse!  

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