Although both muscle ache and muscle injury are potential side effects of high-intensity exercise, the former typically results in the growth and development of muscle tissue, whereas the latter may require medical attention. To be on the safe side, you should be able to differentiate between muscle ache and injury. Here is some information to help you do that.
An Overview of Muscle Injury
Broadly speaking, a muscle injury involves damage to muscle fibers, tendons, or small blood vessels located within the muscle. The main types of muscle injuries include muscle pull, muscle strain, and muscle tear. In most cases, the injuries occur during the eccentric loading of muscles when the muscle is subjected to great stress. In essence, muscles that cross two joints, such as the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf, are particularly prone to injury. Additionally, although the hip adductor muscle only crosses the hip joint, they, too, are susceptible to injury. Some of the factors that can predispose an elite athlete to muscle injury include, among others, fatigue, overuse injuries, lack of strength in the target muscle, and previous muscle injury. The common symptoms of muscle injury include, among others, irritation, inflammation, bleeding, pain, and bruising.
An Overview of Muscle Ache
When you stress a muscle beyond its limit, the muscle is likely to develop small microscopic tears, leading to muscle ache. Technically known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the pain associated with muscle ache typically begins 6 to 8 hours after a strenuous physical activity, such as a high-intensity workout, and lasts anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. The aforementioned microscopic tears are important because they allow the muscle to grow bigger. That said, it is important to note that DOMS can affect virtually anyone, including elite athletes. The common risk factors for DOMS including, among others, insufficient rest break between sets (strength training), adding new high-intensity activities to your workout program, and increasing the intensity of your workout. Effective remedies for muscle ache include gentle exercises, such as light stretching, and warm baths.
The Differences between Muscle Injury and Muscle Ache
• The onset of pain – Characterized by micro-tears in the muscle fiber, DOMS causes inflammation and pressure on the pain receptors. The pain and discomfort associated with DOMS typically starts 2 to 24 hours after a workout session and peaks at about 36 hours. In contrast, when you sustain a muscle injury, you will feel pain almost immediately in response to the injury.
• Length of pain – In most cases, the pain associated with muscle soreness will become less severe within two or three days. In fact, even in severe cases, the pain typically abates over time. In contrast, the pain from a muscle injury generally gets worse over time and often requires medical attention.
• Location of pain — If the pain is localized and you can pinpoint it with one finger or if it is located in a bone, joint or tendon, then you’re likely dealing with an injury. On the other hand, if the pain involves a larger area, such as an entire muscle group, then you’re likely dealing with muscle soreness.
• Type of pain — Typical, muscle soreness will cause the affected muscle to feel tighter, dully achy, and tender to the touch. When exercising, the affected muscle will seem fatigued or burn. Unlike the pain from muscle soreness, the pain from an injury is typically acute and sharp.
Muscle ache and muscle injury are two potential side effects of exercising. However, while muscle soreness causes muscles to grow and develop, a muscle injury can potentially derail an athlete’s career.