knee pain

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Good Pain and Bad Pain?

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain, How Can You Tell the Difference?

knee pain

It’s very important to listen to your body, especially when venturing to new activities/exercise. Your body is always trying to communicate with you, and it’s important you pay attention otherwise you could get injured. However, being able to decipher the different types of pain may take some getting used to. My patients often ask me if what they are feeling is normal? Below I have a few questions you can ask yourself to try to determine if what you are feeling is just muscle soreness or more significant of injury pain.

1.) Where is the pain? How would you describe it?

Is the pain in your muscle? Does it feel achy and stiff,? Is it tender to the touch? If the answer is yes, sounds more like muscle soreness.


Is the pain in your joint, muscle, tendon, or bone? Does it feel sharp? Is there swelling? Bruising? If yes, this could be an injury

pain image

2.) How long have you had the pain?

Does the pain come on 24-72 hrs. after the activity/exercise, but then slowly get better?

This could be delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. Muscle soreness is normal when working different muscles.  While working your muscles, they may start to burn –that is a good thing and it means you are pushing your limit to fatigue the muscle, and therefore make them stronger. When your muscles get sore, there are microscopic tears that happen in the muscle. When your body repairs these tears, it puts down more collagen fiber to rebuild, and thus your muscles get bigger and stronger.


Does the pain go on for 7 days or longer? Does it tend to linger?


When starting a new exercise it is important to increase the stress on the tissue gradually, especially when it comes to your tendons, bones, and cartilage. If you increase the load too fast, too soon, this could lead to injury. It is important to determine your individual activity threshold. That is the sweet spot between working your muscles to get stronger and over-working them. When doing a new exercise that point is when you are not able to do another rep with correct form. If you are sacrificing form to get in that last rep, it’s better not to do that last rep. Only do as many as you can perform with proper form!


3.) What makes the pain feel better?

Does stretching help or moving around make it feel less painful? If it’s just muscle soreness, stretching and doing some gentle cardio should make it feel much better.


Does only rest and ice make it feel better? Could be injury pain 🙁


4.) What makes the pain worse?

Does sitting still for a period of time make the stiffness/soreness worse?

Does movement make it feel worse? If moving the painful area makes the pain worse, this could signify something more than muscle soreness.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Published by


Jessica is a licensed physical therapist currently living and working in NY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *