Many of our patients come into the clinic after a few sessions complaining that their joint pain has increased since their initial evaluation. This is not meant to whitewash those concerns, as an increase in joint pain due to a specific exercise is fairly common. However, typically the significant increases in joint pain will only come while performing that specific exercise, and subside significantly, if not entirely, a short time after.
An increase in pain for longer periods of time, like 1-2 days, is more indicative of muscle soreness - not joint pain. While muscle soreness can be just as, if not more, debilitating compared to joint pain, muscle soreness is a good sign.
Most of the time when patients come in with joint pain, they'll have been limiting activity that could increase that joint pain. For example: a patient comes in, chief complaint is knee pain, they'll likely have been avoiding stairs, bending down or squatting to pick something up or participate in hobbies, such as gardening, and moving slowly and cautiously. In physical therapy, to first lessen the pressure on the inflamed joint, we'll need to strengthen the muscles around the joint. To do so, patients will complete a number of exercises that don't necessarily aggravate those painful symptoms at the time, but can lead to soreness later. The soreness occurs because the muscles surrounding the joints are likely very out of practice - as your natural instinct to avoid an increase in pain is to minimize all causes of the pain. In turn, the muscle soreness will increase as they adapt to the newly added activities.
Fortunately, muscle soreness doesn't last forever. It lasts a few days, maximum, and will decrease thereafter - usually leaving patients in less pain than they started. Patients need not worry that they'll reproduce that soreness each time, as each time they complete their Home Exercise Program, the muscles will continue to strengthen and therefore, adapt faster. Most of the time, patients will not be sore after a few visits to the clinic - given that they're doing their exercises as prescribed. Soreness from that point on will only increase as the intensity or difficulty of the exercises increase, but increases in difficulty means progression.
Differences in joint pain versus muscle soreness include:
- Joint pain is sharp, stabbing, debilitating, while muscle soreness is dull, burning, achey
- Muscle soreness leads to problems you may not be used to: say your knee pain was below the kneecap, but now is above and on the sides of the kneecap
- Joint pain will increase during a specific movement, and decrease after the movement, whereas muscle soreness will decrease or become more manageable the more the movement is performed
- Muscle soreness only lasts 1-3 days, whereas joint pain will continue to hurt each time you do specific movements for an undefined amount of time, and can possibly even get worse
Still think it's joint pain? There are tests we can do here at CHAMPION Performance and Physical Therapy that can help us as professionals determine where the pain is stemming. It's our job as therapists to educate you on the circumstances of your pain. Keep in mind, every patient is unique and your pain may continue to stem from the joint as we progress - and that's a bridge we'll cross when we get there. Our goal is to improve your quality of life back to functionality status at the very least, or in other words, give you the ability to do the things you love.