Post-workout Pain: What’s Normal?


Soreness following a workout can be normal, so what’s the difference between typical post-workout discomfort and the pain of an injury? Our expert explains more.

Everyone experiences aches and pains in the body, especially after working out. How do you know when you’ve overdone it? We asked Casey Keating, MD, a Renown physiatrist who focuses on spine pain, sports injuries and nerve injuries, about the common aches and pains that he sees from physical activity.

When is pain after exercise not normal?

Muscle soreness during exercise will be pretty mild but may slowly progress and get worse or continue for a couple days. Normal muscle soreness can happen especially when starting a new exercise. Soreness should be pretty mild during the exercise itself, but it can slowly progress and get worse the next day when you wake up and even on day two and three.

Pain that’s more than normal might happen very acutely when you’re exercising. You might feel a severe pain immediately. There could be swelling around that particular joint, bruising, or at worse, you might not be able to put any weight on it. Then it’s time to check in with your doctor.

Renown Medical Group – Physiatry

Renown Medical Group – Physiatry offers coordinated care for patients who require evaluation and treatment of painful conditions and functional disabilities. A referral from a provider is required. Call 775-982-5000 for more information.


I want to get back into working out. How do I start safely?

Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or a mid-year resolution, congrats to you — that’s a great decision. But it’s important to begin a program safely. If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid to get a certified personal trainer who can ease you back into this process.

Also, if you have any previous injuries you should see your primary care provider prior to starting a new exercise program.

And finally, be patient. One thing I see commonly is people who return to the gym and want to do everything in one day. It’s OK to ease into it. It’s not about how fast you get there, it’s about where you are at the end of your journey.

What are some signs that I have an injury that needs to be looked at?

There are a few common injuries that I see:

  • Back pain: When people are in the gym doing an activity like dead lifts or squats, they might feel pain immediately in their back. It might be just in your back, or you might feel a shooting pain that goes down your legs. If either happens, these are pretty typical presentations of a disk herniation. You should see your doctor and we can individualize a treatment to your particular problem. 
  • Shoulder injuries: Sometimes an injury to the shoulder may cause pain when moving or cause weakness within the shoulder itself. This can happen with or without trauma. If you have a decrease in range of motion within your shoulder, you should definitely see a provider and possibly a specialist. Sometimes the treatment can be as done in a practice without surgery.
  • Numbness in the hands: Numbness in the hands can be caused from many things, including sports injuries, nerve compression or even general medical conditions. The evaluation and management of hand numbness can be challenging and you should see a specialist such as a physiatrist for this.
  • Knee injuries: Knee pain is another common thing that I see. For any acute injury with the knee, if you see any swelling around your knee and if you have difficulty walking, see a medical professional immediately. It could be something more severe. If it’s just a knee contusion or if you bump your knee against something and you can still walk on it and there’s no swelling, you might just want to make a regular appointment with your primary care provider. If the knee pain is a chronic issue, there are many good treatments available for you.
  • Ankle injuries: This injury is common among basketball players or somebody at the gym doing a new workout. If you have an ankle injury, you might have some swelling around the ankle and it might be difficult to put weight on it. And if you can’t put any weight on it at all and you can’t walk, that’s something you should see a doctor immediately for.

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