Muscle Ache

Dr. Nadheer K M (AIIMS)MBBS

July 10, 2017

March 06, 2020

Muscle Ache
Muscle Ache


Muscle pain is often a result of exertion or overuse of a muscle or muscle group and is quite common. It can be acute or chronic in nature. The symptoms of muscle pain depend primarily on the cause of muscle pain. The most common causes of muscle pain include tiredness, stress, wrong posture, injury, and infections. Muscle pain usually resolves on its own within a few days. However, chronic muscle pain could be indicative of an underlying health condition. The diagnosis can be established using blood tests, imaging tests, and physical examinations. Muscle pain like a cramp and muscle pull can be treated using home remedies such as using heating pads and taking rest. Other treatment options include physiotherapy, pain relief medications, and surgery.

What is muscle pain?

Muscle pain is a common occurrence and most people are likely to experience it at some point in their lives. It can be caused by multiple factors and has conventional treatment approaches as discussed in this article.

What is Muscle pain?

Muscle pain tends to be a common complaint among all age groups. However, it can also be a symptom of an underlying health condition. Muscle pain refers to discomfort in some of the muscles of the body. However, some people may experience it all over the body. In medical terms, muscle pain is called myalgia. It can have many causes and can be acute or chronic. An injury may also cause muscle pain. It could be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, rashes or even inflammation. Muscle pain usually goes away on its own but may persist under certain circumstances for a long time.

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Myalgia symptoms

  • The primary symptom of muscle pain is experiencing a discomfort of varying intensity in some part of the body.
  • The pain could be vague and spread out. This kind of muscle pain is commonly experienced due to tiredness and fatigue. It usually goes away with rest.
  • Muscle pain which comes across as sharp and intense is commonly experienced in leg injuries. Twisting or moving of the affected muscle worsens the pain.
  • Muscle pain due to a cramp or conditions like deep vein thrombosis is often described as throbbing and radiating.
  • Stress-related muscle pain often concentrates in the neck and shoulder region.
  • Muscle pain may be accompanied by other symptoms such as:
    • Weakness.
    • Pain while moving the affected area.
    • Inflammation.
    • Redness.
    • Swelling.

The symptoms largely depend on the affected muscle. For example, pain in the abdominal muscles due to a heavy workout may not be pronounced. However, when the person inhales too quickly or laughs suddenly, pain may be experienced. Muscle pain in the neck region may prevent the person from moving the neck around and produce a sharp pain while trying to bend the neck on one side.

Muscle pain causes and risk factors


The causes of muscle pain include:

  • Injury​
    ​Muscle injury can cause pain which may worsen with movement. Muscle strain and pulling of the tissue can lead to overstretching and muscle tear. Such muscle strains are more common while performing athletic activities which require sudden movements. Following the same working routine which is physically taxing and lays stress on the muscles can be termed as repetitive motion injury. Sitting in a wrong body posture for prolonged periods of time can also lead to muscle pain in the back. The muscle fibres can get damaged if the same activity is being performed again and again without having a break. This can exert the muscles in the area and lead to pain.
  • Compartment Syndrome
    Compartment syndrome is a painful condition which occurs when the pressure within the muscles causes a decreased blood flow and prevents nourishment and oxygen supply to the muscle cells. Compartment syndrome can be chronic or acute. Acute compartment syndrome often occurs due to a severe injury such as a broken bone. Acute compartment syndrome needs immediate medical attention. Chronic compartment syndrome is often a result of exertion due to repetitive motion activity such as running or exercising.
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome
    Myofascial pain is caused by muscle injury or strain in a muscle, ligament or tendon. Myofascial pain syndrome is a long-term condition which is characterized by prolonged muscle pain, and inflammation in the affected area.
  • Stress
    Physical stress is the most predictable cause of muscle pain. However, mental stress can also be a cause of muscle pain. Prolonged stress can lead to the development of tension in the muscles. Sudden stress also leads to the clenching of the muscles. Removal of the stress-causing factor usually releases the tension. Prolonged stress causes headaches and pain in the shoulder and back muscles. The indirect impact of psychological stress on the muscular health cannot be ignored. People under constant stress report pain in several body parts like the neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Infections
    Viral infections like common cold and flu are accompanied by symptoms of muscle pain, along with, other symptoms such as a headache, cough, runny nose, and chills. Parasitic diseases such as malaria and dengue lead to severe body pain along with other painful symptoms. There are other diseases in which common symptoms include muscle pain. For example, Lyme disease, caused by a tick bite leads to symptoms like muscle ache, joint pain, and fatigue.
  • Autoimmune diseases
    Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and myositis are caused when the person's immune system attacks his/her own body cells. Myositis leads to the inflammation of the body's muscles. Over time, the inflammation produces muscle pain and fatigue. It is not yet known what triggers the onset of this condition. An individual affected with lupus will experience rashes on the face and other parts of the body, along with, the inflammation of muscles and joints.
  • Fibromyalgia
    Fibromyalgia is a neurological condition which leads to pain all over the body, along with, severe tiredness and sleep problems.
  • Dehydration
    Lack of fluids and electrolytes in the body due to poor diet or constant physical activity can cause muscle contractions and lead to muscle cramps. Muscle cramps are more commonly experienced in the leg and the pain due to a cramp can last from a few minutes to a few hours. Muscle cramps may feel like a knot in the area and produce a radiating pain.
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease
    Blockage of the blood vessels which carry blood from the heart to the legs can lead to pain in the legs. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is caused due to the deposition of fat in the arteries and the pain produced by it is often aggravated while doing a physical activity.

Risk factors

  • Under the general assumption, people who engage in strenuous physical activities frequently are more vulnerable to developing muscle pain due to exertion.
  • Remaining in one particular posture for long durations of time is also a risk factor.
  • With age, the muscles may weaken gradually and hence, the elderly are likely to suffer from muscle ache as well.
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Prevention of muscle ache

To prevent muscle pain caused by leg injuries such as sprain or strain, the following steps can be taken:

  • Warming up
    Warming-up before doing the actual workout is an important step that many people tend to neglect. It increases the blood flow within the body and releases the tension in the muscles very slowly and gently. Hence, it becomes easier to exercise without straining the muscles immediately.
  • Staying hydrated
    As mentioned earlier, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance can lead to muscle pain. Hence, drinking water after short intervals of time is necessary to prevent weakness and pain. Oral rehydration salts can be mixed with water to prevent electrolyte imbalance.
  • Using proper equipment
    • Wearing proper clothing and sports shoes can help in preventing injuries while running or doing other forms of exercise. While lifting weight, a gradual increase in the weights will prevent immediate stress on the muscles.
    • Mild and regular stretching after regular intervals of time, especially if you have been sitting in the same posture for a long time can prevent stiffness and muscle ache.
    • In the case of autoimmune diseases, there are no well-defined preventive measures which can be taken to prevent the muscle pain. However, the pain can be managed with the help of medications.

Diagnosis of muscle pain

The first step in the diagnosis of muscle pain is taking a detailed medical history. The doctor may inquire about where the pain originates from, for how long the pain has been occurring, whether you are recovering from any recent illness and what other health conditions you are suffering from. The doctor will also ask questions related to your diet to make sure that your muscle pain is not related to nutritional deficiencies.

Some other questions you may be asked are:

  • How long does the pain last?
  • Does it always ache in the same location?
  • How often does the muscle pain occur?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?
  • Do you experience any other symptoms along with the muscle pain?
  • Are there any medicines you are taking?
  • Does the pain get better when you stop moving?
  • Is there a pattern to the muscle pain?

After taking the medical history, the doctor usually performs a physical exam to look for any areas which are tender and show signs of inflammation.

In case of a muscle strain, the physical exam is followed by imaging tests such as X-ray and MRI scan to diagnose the injury and identify the affected muscle.

A complete blood count may also be advised to diagnose the Lyme disease and other connective tissue disorders.

Muscle ache treatment

The treatment of muscle pain largely depends upon the cause of the pain and also on the body area where the muscle pain is occurring.

  • In the case of muscle pain due to injuries, the doctor may recommend restricting physical activity to allow the muscle to heal naturally. In some cases, use of medical aid like crutches or braces may be necessary to speed the recovery.
  • To provide relief from muscle cramps and recurring muscle ache, muscle relaxants may be prescribed.
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and diclofenac may be used in combination with other forms of treatment. Over-the-counter pain relieving medications can help in easing the pain within a short duration of time. Painkillers help in reducing the inflammation. They are often prescribed to ease the pain due to leg injuries. However, if you suffer from an underlying health condition, then taking pain relief medication frequently will not be a permanent solution.
  • Using heating pads is another easy way of reducing muscle ache. Heating pads and hot water bottles are very commonly used for reducing the pain due to muscle cramps or muscle pull. The use of a heating pad can also help menstrual cramps which are caused due to muscular contractions in the uterus. The heating pad can be placed upon the affected area. Heating pads can be used multiple times a day.
  • Ointments are very commonly used for muscle ache as a topical remedy. These ointments contain absorbable medications which reduce inflammation beneath the skin providing immediate pain relief. Ointments work very well for mild to moderate muscle pain and are commonly applied on legs, back, and shoulder area.
  • Chronic lower back pain is treated with a combination of physiotherapy along with exercise and pain relief medications. Some people also report relief with the use of techniques like acupuncture. In cases where these forms of treatment are not helpful, surgery may be recommended.
  • Fibromyalgia is treated with the use of pain relief medications, along with, physiotherapy and psychological therapy (with the help of a professional counsellor).

Lifestyle management

  • Muscle aches can often be treated at home with a few remedies. The first one is to take rest. Muscle pain can be caused by exertion and constant work or engaging in a particular physical activity. Discontinuing the activity for a little bit of time can be very helpful in giving the muscles some rest.
  • For acute injuries, use ice packs. They help in reducing swelling in an area where the muscles are aching.
  • People under prolonged stress complain of muscle pain frequently. Stress-related muscle pain can be avoided by practising meditation. Mediation helps in reducing psychological stress and has proven beneficial for several individuals. Other stress-reducing techniques such as yoga or therapy can also be considered according to personal needs.
  • It is best to work under the supervision of a professional when working out in the gym or practising any other physical activity to make sure that you maintain the right posture. This will prevent having muscle pain due to strenuous physical activity.
  • Massaging the affected area can help in releasing tension and stiffness from the muscles.
  • Limiting high impact activities until the muscle pain has resolved is also recommended.
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Muscle pain prognosis & complications


Muscle pain is an extremely common condition that is self-resolving and home care is usually sufficient for treating acute muscle pain. Muscle pain can be managed with the help of medications as well. Chronic muscle pain could be caused by an underlying health condition, in that case, proper diagnosis is required. Timely diagnosis and adequate medication are typically sufficient to treat chronic pain too.


Complications arising from muscle pain are rare. However, if the muscle pain does not resolve within 3-4 days and is accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and fever, then immediate medical consultation is required. Delay in the diagnosis of the underlying health condition could lead to complications such as chronic pain, depression and reduced quality of life.


  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons [Internet] Rosemont, Illinois, United States; Compartment Syndrome.
  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons [Internet] Rosemont, Illinois, United States; Sprains, Strains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries.
  3. National Fibromyalgia Association [Internet] California; Diagnosis Fibromyalgia.
  4. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Muscle aches.
  5. National Pharmaceutical Council [Inetrnet]; Management of Acute Pain and Chronic Noncancer Pain.

Medicines for Muscle Ache

Medicines listed below are available for Muscle Ache. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.

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