Injury vs. Soreness

What’s Included?

  • Injury Prevalence in Running
  • How to Tell the Difference
  • Contributing Factors to Injuries

Injury Prevalence

Injuries are an unfortunate yet common thing in the world of running – with one study by Van Mechelen stating that 37-56% of recreational runners get injured annually. Another study done by Yale Medicine shared that at least 50% or more of regular runners get hurt each year. We all know that an injury can stop you dead in your tracks – so it’s important to be able tell the difference.

For many runners – it’s not a matter of IF we will get injured, it’s when. So, how can you tell the difference between some general soreness or DOMS (Delayed-onset Muscle Soreness) & a developing injury?

How to Spot the Difference


When it comes to DOMS, the pain & soreness typically starts anywhere between 12-24 hours after an intense workout, with the pain typically peaking anywhere from 1-3 days after. So, if your pain is immediate – then it’s likely not something to just “pass off” as general soreness. If your pain is immediate, sudden, random, or clearly intensifying/worsening upon finishing a workout – it’s worth investigating further with a medical professional.


How long have you been feeling this pain or soreness? Again, if it’s general soreness or DOMS, then you might have some lingering “tightness” and soreness for up to a week – however, it should be getting slightly better with time. If your pain has been lasting longer than this (even if it’s just slight) – then it’s worth pausing and investigating further with a medical professional. In addition, if your pain “goes away” and then randomly comes back after movement or exercise – it’s time to look closer at a potential worsening injury.

What Does It Feel Like?

YOU know your body well. If you’re worried that it might be an injury – then treat it like one! Best case, you’re in the clear & just have some extra rest and recovery under your belt. Worst case, you’re injured & making it worse by continuing to put off recovery. If your pain feels dull, achy, and tender/tight – that could be a sign of soreness or DOMS. However – if your pain is sharp, shooting, or feels “off” – it’s time to stop and investigate further with a medical professional.

Where Is It At?

Taking a look at WHERE your pain is can help you figure out what could be happening. If the pain and soreness is in a muscle /has a broader surface – it could be DOMS. However, if your pain is radiating, tingling, burning, or located in an area where common injuries occur (knees, achilles, foot, hips) – then it’s worth pausing and investigating further with a medical professional.


Is there swelling or redness? This is typically associated more with INJURIES than DOMS – seek advice from a medical professional.

Are there any sounds? Sounds are typically associated more with INJURIES than DOMS – seek advice from a medical professional.

Injury Contributing Factors

A study by Van Mechelen found that 50-75% of injuries are due to OVERUSE or repetitive stress. But what contributes to OVERUSE? There are many factors including (but not limited to):

    • You may be increasing mileage too fast/too quickly
    • Running high mileage without the musculoskeletal strength to support it
    • Not taking “down” weeks after several weeks of increasing mileage
    • Incorporating more than 20% speed during your week
    • Running too fast for your 80% easy mileage
    • Not running easy miles easy enough
    • Increasing intensity too quickly
    • Muscle Imbalances
    • Lack of range of motion (lack of flexibility & stability)
    • Lack of cross-training/training in other planes of movement
    • Typically only occurs when a runner is substantially over or underweight (causing increased stress on the body or lacking the strength to support the body in the high impact activity of running)
    • Foot strike
    • Muscle imbalances
    • Not replacing shoes often enough
    • Not having enough cushion to support joints & correct imbalances
    • Form is compromised – leading to injuries

When it comes down to it, we will all likely need to battle an injury from time to time – however, if you are questioning whether something is general soreness/DOMS or a more serious injury – I highly suggest you take some time to pause, rest, reduce mileage or intensity if needed, and seek medical attention if pain continues. It’s better to take action fast & rest early – so that you can continue running long & strong for years to come!

Amy Haas
Run with Aim, LLC
UESCA Certified Running Coach
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NASM Certified Nutrition Coach