Muscle pain (also called myalgia) is a common physical ailment. Most people will experience muscle pain in their lifetime.
It usually presents as stiffness or cramping. Most cases of muscle pain are not serious and the pain goes away on its own. Sometimes muscle pain can be an indication of a more serious underlying health problem.
Causes and triggers
The possible causes of muscle pain vary depending on the extent of the area of the body affected.
When the pain is localized in one area of the body, the most common causes are as follows:
- A sudden awkward movement
- A traumatic injury (e.g., receiving a blow to the body part)
- Repetitive motion
When muscle pain affects the whole body, the most common causes are as follows:
- Infections (e.g., the flu)
- Certain medications (e.g., statins for cholesterol)
- Unusually intense physical activity
- Rheumatic diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
Anything that requires muscle exertion (e.g., bearing weight, exercising) will likely make the pain worse.
There are several different ways to manage muscle pain, depending on the cause. These include:
- Applying heat or cold
- Massaging the area
- Taking an analgesic such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
- Taking a muscle relaxant
- Applying a topical analgesic (e.g. Myoflex, Voltaren Emulgel)
Unless you are advised otherwise by your health care provider, you can use a cold compress to reduce inflammation in muscle injuries during the first 48 hours following the trauma. It is important not to apply cold compresses directly to the skin to avoid ice burns. After 48 hours, unless otherwise advised, it is recommended to apply heat to relax the muscle. A hot water bottle or an electric dry or moist heating pad can be used to apply heat to the affected area.
Many painkillers and muscle relaxants can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies. Ask your pharmacist which treatment is best for you.
When muscle pain is caused by a medication, there are a few different strategies you can use to relieve it. In some cases, you might be able to lower the dose to eliminate this unpleasant side effect. In other cases, the medication may have to be stopped or changed. Always talk to your health care provider before changing the way you take your medication.
When should I see a health care professional?
Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Persistent muscle pain
- Widespread muscle pain accompanied by fever or fatigue
- Sudden weight loss