Read below about muscle aches, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your muscle aches from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Muscle Aches Symptoms

Muscle aches, also called myalgia [1], is a general term for any type of body pain coming from your muscles – not just the few you remember from high school biology class.

Sometimes it is a sore shoulder from too much tennis or a pain in your back after helping a friend move. Other times you just ache all over and your muscles seem sensitive, usually due to an illness or the flu [2,3].

Characteristics:

  • The aching may affect only an isolated muscle or muscles group.
  • Your lower back is a common area for muscle pain, though it can occur anywhere in your body.
  • The aching may be widespread throughout many muscles.
  • Your pain level can range from mild to excruciating.
  • The aching almost always worsens with movement.
  • You may have burning or twitching in the affected muscles.

Duration:

  • The pain may last for a a few days and then go away on its own.
  • The pain may become chronic and continue for weeks or months.

Who is most often affected by muscle aches?

  • Anyone doing repetitive physical work.
  • Anyone playing, or training for, a sport.
  • Anyone with a viral illness, such as the flu.
  • Anyone taking statin medication for treatment of high cholesterol.
  • People who do intense weight lifting and exercise.

Is it serious?

  • Muscle aches that are clearly the result of overexertion are rarely anything serious and usually get better in a few days.
  • Severe and relentlessly painful muscle aches, either in one spot or all over, can be serious and should be treated right away.
  • Muscle pain that is not provoked or part of a cold needs to be investigated right away as well.

Muscle Aches Causes Overview

Many conditions can have muscle aches as a symptom. The most common are those involving physical causes, especially from overuse; but diseases, medications, and even emotional stress can all have muscle aches and pain as a side effect.

Physical causes:

  • Weekend warriors.
  • Overuse for a long period of time, such as from manual labor or sports.
  • Carrying a bag on the same arm or shoulder
  • Minor trauma such as a fall or fender-bender.
  • Major injuries, especially following bone fractures, dislocations, or crush injuries.
  • Rhabdomyolysis can occur with extreme physical exertion, such as running a marathon, and this can be very serious [4].

Disease-related causes:

  • Viral illness.
  • Localized bacterial infection, from the swelling and invasion of pus that can affect the muscles around an infected wound.
  • Medication side effects, especially from statins used for high cholesterol [5].

Emotional causes:

  • Low-level tension due to ongoing stressful situations. Many people "carry" their stress in the neck, shoulders, or back, constantly tensing the muscles in these locations. Eventually, your muscles will begin to feel sore from the strain.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Muscle Aches

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced muscle aches. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Symptoms of Menopause

    Menopause is the point in life where your period stops. This happens when the ovaries stop making hormones that keep your cycle going. The transition into menopause is called peri-menopause and can include symptoms like hot flashes, shortening of menstrual cycle and mood fluctuations.

    Hot flashes typically peak approximately 1 year after the final period and last 4-10 years. Most women stop having hot flashes 4 years after they start, but 10% of women may have hot flashes up to 12 years after their last period.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause:
    delay in or irregular periods
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Depression

    Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Recurrent Depression

    Depression, once diagnosed, can often recur with new episodes. Sometimes these episodes can be similar to ones in the past, sometimes the symptoms can be different. It's good to be aware off the fact that people who had a depression before, remain vulnerable.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Influenza

    Influenza, or Flu, is an infection of the airway caused by the flu virus, which passes through the air and enters the body through the nose or mouth. The symptoms are similar to those of a cold, but the flu is usually more serious.

    Most recover within 1 week but cough and malaise can persist for 2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches
    Symptoms that never occur with influenza:
    headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit

Muscle Aches Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You have intense pain in a particular muscle, which gets worse if you try to stretch or move it, along with numbness, tightness, pins-and-needles sensation, or even paralysis.
  • You have severe muscle aching – either in one spot or seemingly all over – along with pronounced weakness, muscle swelling, mental confusion, and dark-colored urine -- this can be rhabdomyolysis and is serious.

Schedule an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have ongoing, deep, aching muscle pain that does not respond to rest and actually interferes with sleep.
  • You are taking a statin medication. Your medical provider may be able to change you to a different one or substitute another class of medications altogether.
  • You have unexplained and rather sudden aching in the muscles of the shoulders, especially when first getting out of bed.

Remedies you can try at home:

  • Rest, which is the treatment of choice for sore, overworked muscles.
  • Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Ice for an acute injury.
  • Hot pads, hot water bottles, and hot tubs can be very relaxing for all-over muscle aching and stiffness.
  • Stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises.
  • Relaxation techniques to help manage emotional stress.

FAQs About Muscle Aches

Here are some frequently asked questions about muscle aches.

Are muscle aches a sign of dehydration?

Yes, muscle aches can be caused by dehydration. When you exercise your muscles burn oxygen. Sometimes your muscles use oxygen faster than you can consume it. As your muscles run out of oxygen, lactic acid builds up and may cause damage to muscles causing muscle aches. Drinking water helps remove lactic acid. Insufficient consumption of water can exacerbate muscle aches.

Can muscle pain come and go?

Muscle pain can be caused by over-exertion, an auto-immune disease, or long-term lack of blood flow to a muscle. Muscle pain from routine over-exertion of a muscle tends to dissipate as the damage is repaired and the muscle heals. Auto-immune disorders can cause muscle pain that is intermittent as the body's own defenses attack the muscle tissue. Long-term lack of oxygen supply to the muscles can cause ischemia, which involves severe pain followed by numbness as the tissue dies. Prolonged intermittent muscle pain is abnormal and should be evaluated medically.

Why do muscles hurt after working out?

Muscles hurt after working out because during prolonged or strenuous exercise, muscles use up the available amount of oxygen. Oxygen is used to burn molecules from and produce energy in the body. When oxygen runs out, the body burns fuel without oxygen producing lactic acid. In large amounts, lactic acid can cause minor muscle breakdown and muscle pain.

How can I soothe muscle aches?

Muscle aches from exercise can be soothed by drinking enough water beforehand, stretching before and after exercise, heat, over-the-counter pain medication, and rest. In severe cases, muscle relaxants may be useful to relax overly tense muscles. If you have prolonged muscle pain, seek evaluation from a medical professional in your area.

Why are muscle aches associated with fevers?

One of the most common causes of muscle aches is viral infection. Viral infections can cause a lower pH throughout the body, and a lower pH can cause increased pain sensitivity in the muscles of the body. This is caused by an increase in activity of the nerves that sense pain in the muscles. Viral infection can also cause activation of the passive immune system, resulting in fevers. Additionally, fevers may also occur as a result of inflammatory diseases.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Muscle Aches

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our muscle aches symptom checker to find out more.

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Muscle Aches Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced muscle aches have also experienced:

    • 8% Fatigue
    • 5% Headache
    • 4% Nausea
  • People who have experienced muscle aches had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Week
    • 26% Less Than a Day
    • 23% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced muscle aches were most often matched with:

    • 42% Fibromyalgia
    • 42% Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • 14% Common Cold
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

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References

  1. Myalgia. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hopkins Medicine Link.
  2. Influenza (Flu): Flu Symptoms & Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated September 18, 2018. CDC Link.
  3. Colds and the Flu: Tips for Feeling Better. American Family Physician. 2006;74(7):1179-1180. AAFP Link.
  4. Latif W. Rhabdomyolysis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  5. Bitzur R, Cohen H, Harats D, et al. Intolerance to Statins: Mechanisms and Management. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(Suppl 2):S325-S330. NCBI Link.