​Name Your Pain: Sprain vs. Strains vs. DOMS

We’re not doctors. And despite how trim, tone, and good-looking you are, we have no interest in playing doctor with you. In other words, our goal here isn’t to treat or diagnose you with anything. Instead, we’d like to provide a basic understanding of what could be happening when you experience pain during or following a workout.

Not only will this knowledge provide you with small talk topics at the juice bar, but also it could possibly help you stave off an even greater injury through early detection and the application of preventative maintenance.

That said, however severe the pain ends up being, the immediate go-to for most of us experiencing a sprain, strain, or muscle soreness is RICE — rest, ice, compression, and elevation.

“RICE is the standard issue for just about everything,” says ACE Certified Personal Trainer Franklin Antoian, founder of iBodyfit. “In general, if you feel pain for more than two weeks, it’s time to see a doctor.”

Resting, or keeping off of the injured area, prevents any more damage from occurring to the compromised body part. Applying ice or a cold compress at 20-minute intervals teamed with compression and elevation works to keep swelling down and reduce pain.


It’s typical to experience delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, after you’ve put your body through the ringer. For example, following a grueling workout, a flag football game, or a 10-hour game of Twister.

“The soreness could be immediate, or could kick in 24 or 48 hours after your workout,” Antoian says.

The tightness and muscle pain can range from mild and tolerable to the point where using that body part becomes an awful and tearful endeavor. In both cases, after a few days pass the soreness should begin to recede.

“Stretching, using a foam roller, massage, and even a slow walk can help alleviate DOMS pain,” he adds.


While dull and nagging pain could be caused by a handful of factors — poor posture, inadequate footwear, one too many botched pop and locks — a weight-training cause might simply be a strength imbalance.

“If you experience dull pain in your upper back or neck, for example, it could be from … working the chest too much,” he says. “Your body could be pulling the muscles in the back toward the chest and … the result is a dull and nagging pain.”

The remedy: Don’t neglect any areas of the body when training. Read: No skipping legs workouts!


“Tendons attach muscle to bone,” explains Antoian. “And when you tear or overstretch a tendon, it’s a strain. A way to remember is that — strain has a ’t’ in it. So ’t’ for tendon. A sprain is the overstretching or tearing of ligaments; ligaments attach bone to bone.”

He continues, “Feeling that sharp pain come on quickly is a warning to the body that there is something wrong,” he explains. “You see a pro football player pull a hamstring and fall to the ground and that type of pain can turn a 250-lb. person into a baby.”

There are three levels of severity for both strains and sprains:

Grade 1: Mild damage to the ligament or tendon has taken place.

Grade 2: The damage to the tendon or ligament is more severe than Grade 1, but the tendon has not been torn or ruptured.

Grade 3: The ligament or tendon has been completely torn or ruptured.


Whack your leg into a barbell or ram your shoulder into the peg on a squat rack and a day or so later you might see a bruise. The egghead term for bruise: contusion. These form when the blood vessels have been damaged or ruptured, and create skin discoloration.

“It will be immediate pain and swelling, and leave you with limited use of the muscle,” says Antoian. “You should get motion back over the next few days and … like a strain or sprain, you may be forced to lay off of it for one to two weeks before you’re fully healed.”