Myalgia Definition:  It is also known as muscle pain or muscle ache. it is a one of the most common symptom of many disorders and diseases within the body. Since muscle tissues are present everywhere in our body, this pain is not restricted to certain parts of our body either. The muscle pain can develop almost anywhere in the body, hands, legs, neck, back. Also, the pain can vary from mild to excruciating.

Muscle pain can broadly be described in two ways:

  1. Quick and sporadic
  2. Deep and steady

Almost all types of muscle pain go away within a few days or so, however, some muscle pains can extend to months. Muscle pain is also accompanied by joint pain and is a leading cause of fatigue.

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Types of Myalgia:

Our entire body comprises of muscles, and hence Myalgia can occur in any part of the body. Depending on which body part is being affected, what are the muscles involved in the pain, there are various types of myalgia:

Epidemic MyalgiaAlso known as Bornholm Disease, this muscle pain is caused by viral infection. The infection usually affects the chest and upper abdomen of the body. The pain comes in spasms and worsens by every movement.
Fibromyalgia This is a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, lack of sleep, headaches, fatigue, memory issues and depression. Experts believe that fibromyalgia leads to more heightened sense of pain as it affects how our brain processes pain. The symptoms of fibromyalgia usually begin after a surgery, physical or mental trauma or infections. It is more common is females than males. There is no cure for fibromyalgia but it can be controlled through exercise, relaxation and medication.
Trapezius Myalgia This condition involves the neck muscles and is caused by problem with the trapezius muscle. The pain usually lasts long and is a result of repetitive work. It is more common in females with desk jobs.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome This is chronic pain disorder. In this condition, pressure on specific parts of the body (known as trigger points) causes pain in unrelated (seemingly) parts of the body. This is also known as referred pain. This can be treated through physiotherapy.
Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)This is an inflammatory disorder that causes pain and stiffness in shoulder muscles. It can be controlled by corticosteroids but it is suggested that you regularly consult the doctor to better understand the side effects of the medicine. It usually occurs in people above 50 years of age.

Symptoms of Myalgia

The following are the symptoms to look out for to diagnose myalgias:

  • Muscle Pain
    • Dull ache or sharp pain
    • Spread over a local area or widespread
    • Mild or severe
    • Lasting a few minutes or consistent pain
  • Fatigue, extreme tiredness. Less desire to perform normal everyday activities
  • Tenderness in muscles
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fever or chills if you have an infection
  • Joint pain along with muscle pain
  • Feeling of depression if the pain is persistent

Myalgia Causes

Usually, people can pinpoint the reason for muscle pain. This is because the muscle soreness is usually associated with stress, physical activity or tension. Some of the common causes include:

  • Tension in the muscles
  • Too much physical activity, what the body is not used to
  • Infection of soft tissue
  • Muscle injury sustained during physically demanding work or exercise
  • Inflammatory conditions

Myalgia can also be caused by some specific medical condition that the patient is suffering from. Some of them include:

  • Fibromyalgia- A lack of sleep, fatigue, depression and memory issues are some of the symptoms that characterize this problem. Since the brain is processing the pain here, it only means that you will experience heightened levels and more intense nature in such a condition. mental or physical trauma are some of the after effects of the surgery here. Females have a far better tendency to catch this medical condition as compared to men. Relaxation and exercise can help here.
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome- This is characterized by pain in certain unrelated body parts by pressure on some of the other parts of the body. It is a chronic pain disorder and one that can be treated through physiotherapy with best results.
  • Viral infections like flu or polio
  • Lupus – Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It is not a very common condition to have. In this disease, or immune system attacks our tissues and organs. The inflammation caused by lupus may affect all the major organs of the body, including heart and kidneys. Lupus is a difficult ailment to diagnose and there is no cure for it. However, medication can help control the symptoms.
  • Dermatomyositis – This is a rare inflammatory disease characterized by muscle weakness and skin rash. It can affect both children and adults alike and is more common in females as compared to males. There is no cure for dermatomyositis. Skin rash can get better with treatment.
  • Polymyositis – This is a rare inflammatory disease that weakens the muscles of your body. This condition makes performing mundane tasks like climbing stairs, lifting weights, rising from a seated position, difficult tasks. It occurs more in blacks than whites and more in women than men. There is no sure for polymyositis but the symptoms can be controlled through physical therapy and medication.
  • Medications:
    • Cholesterol medication – Statins is a common reason for myalgia
    • Chemotherapy medication may cause myalgia, but it usually resolves itself once the medication is removed
    • ACE inhibitors
  • Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism – This means that your thyroid gland is either producing too little (hypothyroidism) or producing an excess of (hyperthyroidism) of important hormones. It is treatable with synthetic hormones.
  • Hypokalemia – Hypokalemia or low potassium refers to a lower than normal potassium in your blood stream. Potassium is an electrolyte that is necessary for the proper functioning of the muscle and nerve cells. It is especially crucial to the heart muscles. Extremely low levels (lower than 2.5 millimoles per litre) is life threatening and needs to be treated immediately.
  • Chronic exertional compartment syndrome – This is an exercise induced muscle and nerve condition that causes pain, inflammation and in some cases, disability in the affected muscles. This condition is more common amongst athletes participating in sports that require recurring activities.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome – This is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue. This fatigue might worsen with physical activity but the condition does not improve with more rest. The cause for this condition is still unknown. Theories range from psychological stress to viral infections, and all combinations in between.
  • Claudication – This is caused by too little blood flow during exercise. This condition usually affects the legs but can also occur in arms. Initially, the pain is restricted to times when one is exercising, however, this might worsen and one might feel pain even at rest. Claudication is usually a symptom of peripheral artery disease which is treatable.
  • Dystonia – This is a movement disorder. In this condition, the muscles contract involuntarily, causing repetitive movements. This condition can affect one part of the body (focal dystonia), adjacent parts of the body (segmental dystonia) or all parts of the body (general dystonia). The disorder can range from mild to severe and is different for each patient. There is no cure for dystonia but medications and surgery can improve symptoms.
  • Lyme disease – This is a disease caused by four species of bacteria – Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii (cause of Lyme disease in United States. Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii bacteria (cause of Lyme disease in Europe and Asia). This disease is spread through ticks. Initial symptoms are rash and flu like symptoms like chills, fatigue, and body ache.
  • Muscle cramp – This is usually short lived and is caused by long periods of physical labour or certain medications. It can be usually treated at home.
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)- The shoulder muscles are affected in this condition where it is characterized by pain and stiffness. There are medications to control it, but best is to consult a professional about the side effects before you go ahead with it. People above 50 years of age gets affected from this.
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – It is an autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system mistakenly attacks your own body tissues. This arthritis affects the lining of the joints causing a painful inflammation that can eventually lead to joint deformity or bone erosion.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever – This is a bacterial infection that spreads through ticks. It is most common in United States, Canada, Mexico and South America. It is characterized by headache, fever, rashes. It responds well to antibiotics.

Myalgia Diagnosis

The first thing that the doctor is going to do is ask you questions to determine the cause of your pain. For the doctor to determine the cause, doctor might ask you the following details and it might be wise to go prepared with such information:

  • Onset: When did it start
  • Type: Sharp or dull
  • Location: Any particular body part or all over
  • Intensity: On a scale of 1-10, where does the pain figure
  • Duration and frequency: the duration of the pain and how frequent such discomfort is faced
  • Activity: The set of activities you are performing that might be a cause of the pain

Based on these questions, the doctor might be able to determine the cause of the pain. If this information is not conclusive, the doctor might order some tests based on your pain chart. The tests might include some or all of the following:

  • X-Rays
  • CT Scan
  • MRI

The source of the pain might also be known, like chemotherapy or flu.

Home Treatments for Myalgia

Muscle pains usually respond well to home treatments. Here are a few you can try:

  • Rest: Provide adequate amount of rest to areas of the body that are paining
  • Medication: Take an over-the-counter pain killer like ibuprofen to relive some of the pain
  • Ice and Heat: Apply ice to the inflamed area to reduce pain and inflammation. If the pain remains after three days of ice treatment, apply heat to the affected area
  • Stretching: Gentle stretching of the muscles helps provide some relief
  • Avoidance: Avoid high strain exercise or physical activities till the muscle pain goes away
  • Elevation: Elevate your foot to help reduce the swelling
  • Yoga: Do stress relieving exercises such as yoga to relive both physical and mental tension
  • Compression: Use a compression bandage to reduce the swelling
  • Warm Bath: Take warm baths to soothe muscle pains
  • Massage: To relax to sore muscles
  • Acupuncture: To relieve muscle aches
  • Ensure bowel movement: Keep your fruits, fibra and fluid intake good to ensure that your bowel movement is not affected due to the pain and discomfort you are facing

When to see a doctor:

Usually muscle pains go away with time if they are due to physical exhaustion or a result of certain medication. However, in some cases, muscle pains might be a symptom of a bigger problem. It would be advisable to show to a doctor for requisite treatment if one or more of the following occur along with the muscle pain:

  • No relief after trying the home remedies for a few days
  • Extreme muscle pain
  • Rash accompanying the muscle pain
  • Muscle pain following a tick bite
  • An elevated temperature
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weak muscles
  • Inability to move certain parts of the body
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Signs of infection such as redness or swelling around an already sore muscle
  • Sudden onset of pain after a change in medicine dosage or change in medicine itself. Keep a special lookout for medications used to control cholesterol

Based on your overall health and the diagnosis arrived at by the doctor, you might be provided with some drugs to help control the pain and symptoms.

  • Antibiotics: If your muscle pain can be attributed to some infection, antibiotics will be prescribed. The antibiotics will make you feel better after a few days but do not stop the medicines without completing the prescribed course.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids help in reducing inflammation. This medicine prevents infection by preventing the white blood cells to travel to the area of swelling in the body.
  • Antidepressants: These are usually prescribed to patients who suffer from chronic pain and become tired and depressed.
  • Pain medicines: Our Central Nervous System (CNS) is highly alert when we are in pain. The pain medicines help blocking these messages and provide instant relief. Morphine sulphate and Oxycodone are two such medicines. Tylenol such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium may provide relief from musculoskeletal pain.

Tips for Prevention of sore muscles:

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If myalgia is caused by tension or physical activity, taking the following precautions might help prevent it:

  • Stretching before and after workouts
  • Warm up and cool down exercises during each exercise session
  • Stay hydrated
  • Exercise in moderation regularly to prevent the body from getting shocks
  • If you have a desk job or if your job requires you to work in one position over long durations of time, then ensure that you stretch every 60 minutes