When most people suffer from pain, they often write it off as just pain and think nothing more of it. As athletes, it’s important for us to know what caused the pain, where the pain is coming from and how we can get rid of the pain quickly so we can get back to training. The two areas where athletes are most likely to experience pain are in the muscles and joints. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine whether the pain you are feeling is in your muscles or your joints. Let us explain the difference between muscle and joint soreness so that the next time you hurt a bit, you can more quickly diagnose the problem and get yourself healthy again.
Muscle soreness is a common pain that almost every person will deal with at some point in their life but athletes tend to deal with more often than anyone due to the amount of stress we put on our muscles on a daily basis. In medical terms, muscle soreness or pain is known as myalgia. Muscle pain can occur in one or multiple muscles but is usually a localized pain.
By contrast, joint pain occurs when you experience pain or soreness in the joints of the bone structure. Medically joint pain is known as athralgia.
The five most common causes of muscle pain or soreness are stress and over-activity, injuries, medical conditions and drugs. Athletes are most likely to suffer from muscle soreness due to stress andover-activity or injuries. Let’s take a look at all the causes:
- Stress and over-activity: Your body creates toxins (including lactic acid) as a result of stress to your muscles. These toxins can cause pain to the muscle. This is why you might feel sore right after an intense workout or even the next day. Your muscles have built up toxins in them and your body is trying to tell you that it’s ridding itself of those toxins. This type of muscle pain is often described as a “soreness” in the muscles rather than a pain.
- Injuries: Muscle pain caused by injury is more severe than pain caused by stress or over-activity and usually points to a more pressing problem than mere soreness. Injuries to the muscle can consist of sprains, strains or other expansion or contraction injuries. These injuries will lead to pain that most likely will be longer-lasting and more severe than pain from stress or over-activity.
- Medical conditions: You may have experienced muscle pain from illnesses such as the flu. Other medical conditions that lead to medical pain include lupus, fibromyalgia, arthritis and staph infection among others.
- Drugs: Finally certain drugs might cause some muscle soreness. This is most common with ACE inhibitors used to treat blood pressure and cholesterol. Fibrates, cocaine and statins can also cause muscle pain.
There are significantly fewer causes of joint pain:
- Injury: Injury to the joint itself or to the bursae ligaments and tendons of the muscles surrounding the joints can lead to joint pain and/or soreness.
- Medical conditions: Some diseases may cause joint pain including rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, bone cancer, tendinitis, and hypothyroidsm, among others.
Because the source of the pain differs for muscle and joint soreness, the signs and symptoms of these different types also differs. The main difference in the pain in these two areas is that joint pains are incredibly localized to the affected joint. Muscle pain, on the other hand, can be widespread throughout the body. Muscle pain usually increases when pressure is applied on the affected muscle, whereas joint pain can be felt even when there is no external activity taking place.
The easiest way to differentiate between muscle and joint soreness is by moving. If the pain subsides slightly with routine exercise, you’re likely dealing with muscle pain. This is because exercise helps reduce muscle toxins
EXPERT TIP: This doesn’t mean that you should go crazy! Muscle pain can increase or become worse if too much pressure is put on the affected muscle or if it is engaged for too long in physical activity. In this case, the muscles tighten more and muscle fibers can tear.. So if you’re dealing with muscle pain, it’s best to move but to take it easy.
Here are some of the other symptoms of these two types of pain:
Here are the possible symptoms of muscle pain, please note that not all of these symptoms will occur in every instance:
- Acute, immediate, or long-term pain
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness in the localized area
- Coordination problems between the painful muscle and the rest of the body
Bruising in the case of severe muscle pulls.
Here are the possible symptoms of joint pain, please note that not all of these symptoms will occur in every instance:
- Acute, intense pain
- Swelling surrounding joints
- Slight warmth or temperature rise around the joint
- Tenderness in surrounding muscles
Dealing with intense muscle or joint pain, especially as an athlete, can be incredibly frustrating. None of us want to stop training but sometimes severe pain can cause us to slow down or stop exercising entirely. Good news! There are some relief tactics to help decrease the amount of pain and help your body recover more quickly so you can back in the gym. Here are some of those tactics:
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation): We talk about RICE a lot because it’s effective if it’s used correctly. The problem is that it’s usually not used correctly. RICE is not something that should be used long-term and most athletes actually end up overusing this process. You should focus on the RICE tactic for only the first 24 hours. After that time, RICE actually impedes the progress of healing.
- Light Exercise and Stretching: The intensity of the exercise you can engage in when dealing with muscle or joint soreness really depends on the severity of the injury. As a general rule, it’s best to take it easy when dealing with pain. Light movement does help the muscles release toxin build-up but if you push them too hard you are likely to cause more damage rather than less.
- Injury Kits: Our injury kits are specially-formulated to help your body reduce inflammation, remove toxins, and repair damage more quickly. The kit we recommend will be based on the severity of your injury. If you aren’t sure which kit is right for you, fill out our injury assessment and let our injury specialists suggest something!
Regardless of which type of pain you are suffering from, it can be frustrating to have to deal with prolonged soreness. Identifying the type of pain you’re suffering from and the cause of the pain will help you take the first step in recovering from the pain so you can get back to your sport.
Dealing with more severe muscle or joint pain caused by injury? Not sure how long it will take for you to recover from the injury? Check out our Road to Recovery infographic.