Symptoms A-Z

Muscle Aches Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your muscle aches symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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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].

Common characteristics of muscle aches

Your muscle aches can likely be described by the following.

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

Duration of symptoms

The duration of your muscle aches is ultimately dependent on the cause.

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

Who is most often affected by muscle aches

Anyone who does the following are more susceptible to muscle aches, such as if you:

  • Do repetitive physical work
  • Play or train for a sport
  • Have a viral illness, such as the flu
  • Take statin medication for treatment of high cholesterol
  • Do intense weight lifting and exercise

Are muscle aches serious?

The severity of muscle aches will ultimately depend on the cause.

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

Muscle Aches Causes

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

Causes of muscle aches due to physical exertion or strain may include the following.

  • Weekend warriors: Or those that work long hours on their feet
  • Manual labor or sports: Especially if you do either for long periods of time
  • 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: This can occur with extreme physical exertion, such as running a marathon, and this can be very serious [4].

Disease-related causes

Muscle aches related to disease may involve the following.

  • Viral illness
  • Localized bacterial infection: This is 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 can lead to muscle aches. 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.

9 Possible Muscle Aches Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced muscle aches. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

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

Common cold

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, sinuses, throat, and larynx. There are over 200 viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections, and usually the exact virus behind a cold is never known.

The common cold is, of course, very common...

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, or "underactive thyroid," means that the thyroid gland in the neck does not produce enough of its hormones. This causes a slowing of the body's metabolism.

The condition can occur due to autoimmune disease; any surgery or radiation treatment to the thyroid gland; some medications; pregnancy; or consuming too much or too little iodine. It is often found among older women with a family history of the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, constantly feeling cold, weight gain, slow heart rate, and depression. If left untreated, these and other symptoms can worsen until they lead to very low blood pressure and body temperature, and even coma.

Diagnosis is made through a simple blood test.

Hypothyroidism is easily managed with daily oral medication. The patient usually starts feeling better after a couple of weeks and may even lose some extra weight. It's important for the patient to be monitored by a doctor and have routine blood testing so that the medication can be kept at the correct levels.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Muscle Aches Symptom Checker

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Symptoms of menopause

Menopause is the name for the natural process by which the menstrual cycle (period) stops happening in a woman. Usually, the process is gradual (takes months or years) and occurs from the age of 45 to 55 years. Menopause is officially diagnosed once a woman stops having a period for 12 months continuously. A woman with menopause will notice a decrease in the number and regularity of her periods until they completely stop. In addition, she may notice a number of symptoms that occur as a result of decreased estrogen levels, such as hot flashes, changes in mood, sleep problems, vaginal dryness, changes in libido, and changes in sexual function. Certain medications exist that can decrease these symptoms.

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

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.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability

Symptoms that always occur with depression: depressed mood

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Viral (norovirus) infection

If you ever heard of an entire cruise ship of people coming down with the same “stomach bug,” chances are that was norovirus. Fortunately, norovirus usually goes away on its own after a few days, but is pretty unpleasant and can spread extremely easily. The ...

Influenza

Influenza, or "flu," is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It is spread through the air by coughing, sneezing, or even talking.

Anyone can get the flu, but those who are very young, over 65, and/or have pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk for complications.

Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, and extreme fatigue. The symptoms may appear very suddenly.

Flu can bring on secondary bacterial infections in the lungs or ears. Dehydration is a great concern because the patient rarely wants to eat or drink.

Diagnosis is usually made by symptoms. There are tests that use a swab taken from the nose or throat, but they are not always accurate or necessary.

Treatment consists mainly of good supportive care, which means providing the patient with rest, fluids, and pain-relieving medication such as ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children.

Antibiotics cannot help with the flu, since antibiotics only work against bacteria. There are anti-viral medications that a doctor may prescribe.

The best prevention is an annual flu shot.

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

At-home treatments

Remedies you can try at home include the following.

  • Rest: This is the treatment of choice for sore, overworked muscles.
  • NSAIDs: Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) may be rather helpful.
  • Ice for an acute injury
  • Heat: Hot pads, hot water bottles, and hot tubs can be very relaxing for all-over muscle aching and stiffness.
  • Movement: Such as stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises
  • Relaxation techniques to help manage emotional stress

When to see a doctor

Schedule an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • Sleep is disturbed: 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 morning muscle aches: You have unexplained and rather sudden aching in the muscles of the shoulders, especially when first getting out of bed.

When it is an emergency

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

  • You have intense pain: Either 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 believe you have rhabdomyolysis: You may have this condition if you have severe muscle aches, either in one spot or seemingly all over, along with pronounced weakness, muscle swelling, mental confusion, and dark-colored urine.

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

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

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

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your muscle aches

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 were most often matched with:

  • 42% Fibromyalgia
  • 42% Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • 14% Common Cold

People who have experienced muscle aches had symptoms persist for:

  • 36% Less than a week
  • 26% Less than a day
  • 23% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Muscle Aches Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your muscle aches

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

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.