American Family Children's Hospital

This Month in Sports Rehabilitation: No Pain, No Gain? (August 2011)

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(608) 263-4765



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UW Health Sports Rehabilitation: Two female soccer playersThink you know the difference between muscle soreness and pain? Many of the athletes we see in Sports Rehabilitation don't.


Recently a high school soccer player who hoped to continue playing in college came to our clinic, complaining of back pain. In preparation for her senior season she initiated a summer strength and conditioning program. It was a new type of training for her, including the use of kettle bells and medicine balls for strength training. She was also doing sprinting and jumping drills.


Soon after starting the program she began to have back pain. Rather than re-think her training regimen, she persevered, thinking, "No pain, no gain." As she continued, the pain got worse. When she finally came to our clinic an examination revealed a stress fracture in her back. The training she thought was helping her ended up taking her out of her sport for two months.


Unfortunately, this is a common scenario. Athletes starting a new season or training program often do not recognize "pain" as a problem.


"No pain, no gain" acknowledges that, after hard workouts, athletes often experience delayed onset muscle soreness, which is quite different from pain. Understanding the difference can be important in catching an injury early before it limits your ability to participate in sport or recreational activities.


Muscle Soreness Versus Pain




Muscle Soreness



Can occur suddenly or gradually; will often feel during the activity and worsen with the activity

Usually occurs one to two days after the activity; will often feel better during the activity


Usually occurs on one side of the body

Usually occurs in a similar pattern on both sides of the body, unless doing a one-sided activity such as throwing



Often sharp; can be pinching or throbbing

Usually stiff, tight feeling


Primary generator is local and relatively small (can place your finger on it)

Usually a larger area (whole hand or more)


Usually gets worse the more the activity is repeated

Usually will have less soreness the more the activity is repeated


There are times to be especially aware of potential pain and soreness:

  1. Starting a new sport or activity
  2. Transitioning your sport to a higher level, such as progressing from middle school to high school or high school to college
  3. Starting a new training program

Training hard is important and necessary for sport, but recognizing the early signs of pain can be the key to minimizing injuries. The UW Health Sports Medicine Center features physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers with the experience and specialty training to provide you the world-class evaluation and care.




To schedule an evaluation with one of our Sports Medicine primary care physicians, please call (608) 263-8850. You can also schedule an appointment directly with a physical therapist via our Self-Referral program.