Myalgia, simply said, is a muscle pan. In myalgia the pain mainly originates in the muscles and may be related to any muscle of the body. While soreness of muscles is a common complaint, some people may experience myalgia for a considerably longer time. It is important to evaluate the causes of myalgia and plan proper treatment to manage myalgia effectively. It is advisable to seek medical opinion for diagnosis and treatment of myalgia. Home remedies for myalgia are also a great option for some cases.
Muscles are present in every part of the body. Skeletal muscles, which are the muscles that support the bones and surrounding parts are the most commonly affected muscles in myalgia. Muscle pain or myalgia may be present in a single muscle or in a group of muscles that covers a larger area. Many people experiencing myalgia often complain of varying degrees of pain, from mild to severe and the symptoms of myalgia may also change their presentation in many people. As myalgia is a widely occurring condition, it is important to understand the various possible causes of myalgia and the possible underlying medical conditions.
Causes of Myalgia
Myalgia is general or specific pain in muscles and as there are several muscles in the body, there are numerous causes of myalgia that lead to muscular pain.1
Some of the causes of myalgia are considered here.
Overuse of Muscles Cause Myalgia
Many people are involved in activities, occupations or sports that require repeated use of a specific group of muscles. People who use the computer are often seen to experience pain in the neck, back and hand muscles. Similarly, the case with people lifting heavy objects, playing or involving in activities that need repeated use of hands, legs or need to make forceful movements. This does not give enough rest to the muscles and they work more than their capacity to get strained, which results in pain. Overuse of muscles or repetitive strain injury is a common cause of myalgia.
A Major Cause of Myalgia is Injuries
Injuries are one of the most common cause of myalgia. Injuries to the neck or back, hands or limbs or any body part can result in strained muscles around that part. Injury to bones or fractures, injured soft tissues, ligament or cartilage tears or intervertebral disc issues in the spine like disc herniation, etc. often damage the surrounding muscles and can be one of the major causes of myalgia. Injuries are commonly noted in sportspersons, falls, blows, accidents or when people try to lift heavy objects or overstrain their muscles.
While injuries can cause myalgia or muscle pain during the acute phase, many injuries also affect the soft tissues and cause long term myalgia in many cases. Injuries often make the injured area weak and more susceptible to further injuries or more sensitive to slight overuse, which can cause myalgia, in the injured muscles.
Infections and Myalgia
Infections, particularly viral fevers, influenza or those infections, which affect the muscles are also known to cause myalgia. Some infections, which can cause myalgia include malaria, dengue, Ebola and other fevers that cause damage to the muscles. Infections like polio not only cause myalgia but also affect the strength and capacity of the muscles. Most fevers have myalgia or dull aching muscle pain in the body as an associated symptom. Bacterial infections like tuberculosis, when affect the spine and muscles can cause myalgia too. Serious infections like HIV/AIDS can cause pain in muscles and myalgia.
Sensitive Points in Muscles can Cause Myalgia
Many people experience myalgia as a result of increased stress or tension building up in the muscles. Certain areas in muscles may remain sensitive to either a previous injury, infection or strain, which can repeatedly get triggered and cause myalgia. These points are similar to trigger points, which, with the slightest trigger like a jerk, a straining activity, fever, overuse, etc. can initiate pain in the muscles.
Joint and Muscle Conditions Can Cause Myalgia
Many conditions involving the joint and muscles in the body often cause myalgia. In fact muscular pain is almost always present in any condition affecting the bone, joint and muscles. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, septic arthritis or any form of arthritis can cause myalgia and the severity often varies with the main underlying condition.
Autoimmune Disorders and Myalgia
Certain autoimmune disorders may cause muscular pain and myalgia. Some of the common conditions like polymyalgia rheumatic, connective tissue disorders, lupus (SLE) or multiple sclerosis can affect the muscles and cause myalgia.
Medical Conditions Causing Myalgia
Some medical conditions like thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia, low muscle tone, reduced levels of potassium in blood, peripheral neuropathy, lifestyle disorders that cause fatigue or pain in the muscles can cause myalgia. Other conditions of the endocrine system or some genetic conditions too can cause myalgia. These may also be associated with other symptoms of the muscles apart from myalgia, in most cases. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also a common condition that can often cause myalgia.
Myalgia Caused Due to Medications
Certain medications or their withdrawal can cause myalgia too. Medicines like cholesterol lowering drugs, blood pressure control drugs or other treatment modalities that affect the muscles can cause myalgia. Stopping of some medicines like steroids, caffeine, opioids, medicines or sudden stopping of alcohol can result in withdrawal symptoms and cause myalgia.
Others Causes of Myalgia
Sometimes, dehydration, excessive loss of fluids due to vomiting, diarrhea, etc. too can cause myalgia. Other causes of myalgia may also include certain types of cancers, treatment of cancer or post-surgical period, in some cases. Myalgia may also be triggered in some people experiencing chronic stress, anxiety or lack of adequate sleep. Post-traumatic stress disorder, mood problems, hormonal imbalances, or other stressors too can contribute to muscle pain or worsen myalgia in some cases.
Symptoms of Myalgia
Myalgia is mainly pain in the muscles. The other symptoms of myalgia include a feeling of soreness in the muscles, a strained feeling that may make movements painful and difficult. Myalgia may also present with signs of acute injury like swelling, redness or bruising in or around the injured area.
Muscle weakness is another commonly associated symptom of myalgia. The muscle strength may not be adequate and the person may not be able to perform using the painful group of muscles. For example, if the neck or hands are affected, myalgia is often associated with weakness of muscles in arms and hands. This can make it difficult or painful for a person to lift of hold objects, raise objects overhead or may cause discomfort on performing related activities.
Myalgia may be accompanied by stiffness in the muscles and the joint nearby making movements painful. Muscles often get tensed and muscles spasms is another symptom of myalgia. Some may even experience muscle twitching or contractions of the muscle around the painful or weak muscle area. If a nerve gets pinched due to the tense muscles, it can cause pain along the course of nerve along with myalgia. In such cases, there may be numbness, tingling or burning sensation and pain in the limbs, depending on which muscle group is affected.
Daily activities may get affected due to myalgia and other complaints. Symptoms of myalgia can make it difficult for a person to perform tasks and long standing complaints can give rise to feeling of despair. Some people complain of worsening of symptoms of myalgia on overexertion, travelling, playing or performing strenuous activities. Some may even notice a change in their symptoms or worsening in myalgia with changes in the weather, during certain phases or during fevers.
Diagnosis of Myalgia
Myalgia, has a complex set of symptoms and needs proper evaluation not only to diagnose myalgia but also to detect the underlying condition that is the cause of myalgia.
Clinical examination may be helpful to determine muscle strength, muscle functioning and the overall performance. History helps to find out previous injuries, medical history and consumption of certain medicines, etc.
Some of the investigations done to diagnose myalgia and find the causes of myalgia include,
Blood tests may be advised to detect the presence of infection, in case of fevers, inflammation or when certain infections, autoimmune disorders or arthritis like conditions are suspected.
Scans may include X-rays, to study bony abnormalities, fractures etc. of concerned area, if found appropriate, as in cases if injuries, arthritis, degenerative conditions, etc. CT scans or MRI may be ordered to detect any abnormality of the bone, muscles and soft tissues in the suspected area to help to diagnosis of myalgia. It can also help to detect the presence of growths, compression or muscle injuries, which can help to confirm the cause of myalgia.
Electromyography and nerve conduction studies may be considered to determine the conduction of signals through the muscles and involvement of nerves that supply the muscles.
Treatment of Myalgia
The main aim of treatment of myalgia is to relieve pain, reduce swelling and discomfort in the area, improve movement and also treat the underlying cause.
Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, to relax the muscles and reduce pain are usually given. Other medicines that help to relieve anxiety, reduce cramps and numbness in hands may be considered. If found appropriate or if muscle cramps are present, calcium and vitamin supplements may be considered. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance may be treated with appropriate supplements and increased water intake.
Physical therapy may be advised, which can help to relieve pain, to treat myalgia and improvement movements. Initially, rest may be advised and necessary physical therapy treatment may be applied. This is usually followed by gentle stretching exercises and gradually muscle strengthening exercises. Progressive exercises must be followed to help improve the muscle strength and prevent myalgia.
Home Remedies for Myalgia
In mild cases, myalgia can be managed well with home remedies and lifestyle management tips. Some of the great home remedies for myalgia include
Rest – In acute myalgia, it is important to take rest and allow the affected area to heal. It is best to stop activities that worsen the muscle pain, avoid lifting weights, repetitive movements and other high-intensity activities or workouts.
Injuries or acute pain conditions may require appropriate treatment, which may include simple home remedies applying ice packs, compression of the part and elevation of the limbs to promote healing.
Keep Warm – Cold or warm compresses usually work best for myalgia. Some people who are sensitive to climate changes may feel better by covering themselves in cold weather. Warm water bath in morning and evening can help to relieve stiff and painful muscles in myalgia.
Warm Bath – Soaking yourself or the affected part in warm bath tub is a great home remedy to relax sore muscles. You can also add Epsom salts to the bath or adding some drops of essential oils like eucalyptus, lavender, can help to relieve myalgia too.
Massage – Some may feel massage as a very good way to get rid of the tense muscles, which can relieve myalgia to a great extent. However, it is important to understand the underlying cause of myalgia in each case, seek medical opinion about massage therapy and get massage for myalgia done only from an expert.
Apply Oil – Gentle application of olive oil, magnesium oil, cedar wood oil, massage oil or your trusted pain relieving oil can be a useful home remedy that can help relax muscles and ease myalgia.
Turmeric as a Home Remedy for Myalgia– Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to relax sore muscles in myalgia and relieve pain. Mix turmeric powder in olive oil, to make a thick paste and apply on the injured, swollen or painful area in myalgia. Turmeric powder can be mixed and cooked in milk and taken at night. This is an old remedy used to treat injuries, sore muscles and promote healing to treat myalgia.
Add Ginger – Ginger is a great anti-inflammatory medicine, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation in muscles, improve blood circulation and relieve myalgia. It can be used in soups, teas or any dish you like.
Some lifestyle management tips for myalgia include:
- Plan a healthy lifestyle that includes a routine exercise regimen or physical activity to suit your health condition. Perform gentle stretches in the morning, warm up before exercising and stretch after. Aquatic exercises or water aerobics are best as they help to relieve pain, without feeling the weight.
- Maintain regular activity levels and avoid sudden increase in workload or exercise intensity. Any changes should be made slowly and preferably under medical guidance. Avoid overusing same set of muscles, adjust work station or furniture and equipment at home to suit your needs. Be aware of your posture and stay aligned when at work. Learn when to stop and take rest, without overusing your muscles.
- Consume a diet rich in proteins, take a balanced meal and avoid foods with preservatives or heavy seasonings. Drink plenty to water and keep yourself well hydrated. Consume fresh fruits and vegetables to get a natural boost of minerals and vitamins. Consuming whole grain foods, lean proteins and lean meat cuts, can help to build strong muscles, provide adequate energy and manage weight.
- Aim to maintain an ideal weight with gradual changes in your diet and activity levels to remain fit, healthy and prevent health problems like myalgia. Excess weight not only adds to muscle pain but also increases the risk of other ailments, so work on weight management.
- Try to relax as stress can add to muscle tension and worsen myalgia. Take breaks from work, indulge in hobbies, practice stress management techniques, yoga and meditation. Breathing exercises can help to a great extent to provide relaxation and improved blood circulation, thereby relieving myalgia.
Myalgia, being pain in muscles, can be a mild condition resulting from muscle overuse or may be the result of a serious medical condition. The treatment and management of myalgia depends on the cause and the symptoms. Hence, it is advisable to seek timely medical advice and follow it accordingly.