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Muscle aches and pains, sometimes called myalgia, are common with most people experiencing muscle pain at some point. There is no single cause of muscle pain, and since there is muscle tissue in most parts of the body, pain can be experienced anywhere.
The most common causes of muscle pain are overuse, tension, stress, and minor injuries. This type of muscle pain is usually localised and affects only a few muscles in a specific part of the body.
Systemic muscle pain is different. This refers to muscle pain throughout the whole body and is often a result of illness or infection. Many people who have suffered with COVID-19 have experienced systemic muscle pain with a general feeling of fatigue throughout all muscles in the body.
Leave Chronic Pain Behind
What causes muscle pain?
Muscle pain can be short or long-term and can be caused by a number of things such as medications, injuries, infections, diseases or other health problems.
Many people who experience muscle pain can pinpoint the cause. This is because it is commonly caused from too much stress, tension, or physical activity, including muscle tension in one or more areas of the body, overusing the muscle during physical activity, injuring the muscle while engaging in physically demanding work, exercise or not warming up and cooling down properly.
Muscle pain can also be caused by some medical conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, or infections such as the flu or bacterial infections. Some medications can also lead to muscle pain including cancer treatment, high blood pressure medications and statins used to lower cholesterol levels.
What are the symptoms of muscle pain?
While muscle pain can occur almost anywhere throughout the body, there are some fairly typical symptoms to look out for including pain, tenderness or swelling, stiffness or a reduced amount of movement in the specific area or reduced strength in the affected area.
As well as experiencing soreness and discomfort in your muscles, it is not uncommon to notice other symptoms alongside including:
• A fever
• A rash
• Difficulty breathing
• Signs of infection such as redness or swelling
Some of these symptoms may require more immediate medical attention as they could be a sign of a more serious illness or infection, especially if you are struggling with breathing or experiencing a high fever.
Types of muscle pain
Muscle pain can typically be broken into two distinct categories: pain that is related to muscle activity and pain that is not.
Pain related to muscle activity
This is the most common type of muscle pain and is related to muscle activity. It can occur either during a physical activity or after, and typically presents within 24-48 hours as muscle soreness or stiffness, cramps, or strains.
Pain unrelated to muscle activity
Muscle pain can also develop separately from any physical activity. The most common causes of this type of muscle pain is illness or an infection, however, you should visit a medical practitioner if you are experiencing muscle pain that is unrelated to muscle activity.
How can muscle pain be treated?
Muscle aches and pain can usually be managed by home treatments including resting the area, massage and gentle stretching, over-the-counter pain medication and alternating between ice therapy (to reduce swelling) and applying heat to the area (to increase blood flow).
If your muscle pain is caused by tension or physical activity, take these measures to lower your risk of developing muscle pain in the future:
• Stretch your muscles before starting physical activity
• Make sure you warm-up and cool down properly when exercising
• Stay hydrated and engage in regular exercise to help promote optimal muscle tone
• If you work at a desk or in an environment that could cause muscle tension, get up and stretch regularly.
If the pain does not improve after home therapy, the cause of the pain is unknown, or the painful area is red or swollen, you should seek medical help. Your doctor may order tests to help diagnose the cause of the pain including blood tests, MRI or CT scans or in some cases a muscle biopsy.
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