An Overview of Myalgia

Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Myalgia is the medical term for muscle pain. Muscle pain is a symptom of many diseases and conditions. Myalgia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). If you or a loved one is experiencing myalgia, it is useful to learn more about what it is, its symptoms, potential causes, when to see a doctor, and treatment options. 

Symptoms 

Deep muscle pain is the main symptom of myalgia. The pain feels like a pulled muscle. With chronic myalgia, however, muscle pain hurts with both rest and movement. Muscles can also be tender and swollen. 

Additional symptoms of myalgia may include: 

  • Deep muscle pain in the local area or widespread pain
  • Dull or sharp aching pain
  • Mild or severe pain that may last minutes or be constant
  • Fever and chills if there is an infection
  • Joint pain associated with muscle pain
  • Fatigue that makes it hard to do any kind of normal activity
  • Feeling depressed if the pain is constant 

Causes 

Anyone who has exerted themselves can develop myalgia. That type is usually short-lived and can be managed very easily. 

People who have chronic myalgia conditions have long-term and widespread muscle pain. 

Myalgia can be a side of effect of some medications.  For example, statins (cholesterol medicines) are known for causing muscle pain. Glucocorticoids, immunologic drugs, and antimicrobials cause myopathies, diseases that affect muscle tissue. Suddenly stopping high doses of these medications or opioids, benzodiazepines, caffeine, or alcohol may trigger myalgia.

The most common causes of myalgia are overuse, injury, and strain. These causes usually result in acute myalgia. Chronic myalgia can be caused by a number of diseases or in response to certain triggers such trauma or vaccinations.

Acute myalgia is the main symptom of many acute conditions, including: 

  • Injury or overuse: This type of muscle pain is localized and affects just a few muscles and a small area of the body.
  • Influenza: Muscle soreness is not unusual when the body is working to heal itself.
  • Lyme Disease: Early on, this tick-borne disease presents with flu-like symptoms, including muscle pain.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Several vitamin and mineral deficiencies cause muscle pain, including vitamin D and potassium deficiencies. 

Chronic myalgia is often the main symptom of musculoskeletal conditions and autoimmune diseases including: 

  • Fibromyalgia: This condition is characterized by widespread muscle pain that is throbbing, shooting and/or stabbing.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): The same processes that cause inflammation in the joints can also cause muscle pain.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): Muscle pain and stiffness and involuntary muscle spasms are common symptoms of MS.
  • Depression: Depression can manifest itself with physical symptoms, including unexplained muscle aches and pains. 

When to See a Doctor  

Myalgia is not always a harmless condition. Most of the time, you can manage pain and swelling at home, but myalgia can be a sign that there is an underlying issue in the body that needs to be addressed. It is a good idea to see your doctor if: 

  • pain does not go away after a few days of at home treatment
  • muscle pain is severe and has no known cause
  • you have a rash
  • you have been bitten by a tick
  • there is redness and swelling
  • you have pain that continues despite the use of over-the-counter pain relievers
  • you have a fever

While rare, myalgia can also be the sign of a medical emergency. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, along with aching muscles, you should seek out immediate medical attention: 

  • water retention or decreased urine output
  • problems swallowing
  • trouble breathing or catching your breath
  • neck stiffness
  • weak muscles
  • inability to move the affected area or paralysis

Diagnosis

Since myalgia is a symptom, not a diagnosis. Diagnosis of an underlying condition usually involves looking at potential causes of muscle pain associated with other diseases, especially those where muscle pain and/or inflammation are chief complaints. Testing is, therefore, directed towards finding an underlying condition that may have triggered the onset of muscle pain. 

Getting to a diagnosis may include a number of steps.

  • Medical history is the initial step when a person reports muscle pain. The process involves a complete history of previous and current injuries and illnesses and medications currently being taken.
  • Physical examination looks at pain locations, evidence of stiffness and weakness, and observation of gait (manner of walking) and posture.
  • Blood tests are helpful in the detection of muscle damage, inflammation and for ruling out some underlying conditions.
  • Imaging, including X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to diagnose and rule out different causes of myalgia.

Condition-Specific Testing

Depending on the condition a doctor suspects, he or she may perform additional diagnostic specific testing. For example, specific blood work is done to identify autoimmune diseases, including looking for certain antibodies and genes. X-rays can determine specific types of arthritis that may be causing muscle pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. 

Nerve conduction studies can determine whether the nerves supplying the muscles are functioning normally, such as is the case with myositis, which causes inflammation and degeneration of muscle tissue.

Some muscle conditions, such as fibromyalgia, can not easily be confirmed or ruled out with blood work or imaging. In this instance, your doctor will rely on your symptoms and ruling out other conditions in making a diagnosis. 

Treatment 

Physical therapy is the most common treatment for chronic myalgia. It can increase flexibility in sore muscles and with strengthening the surrounding tissues. The therapist can also help you to find ways to manage stress and focus on ergonomics on the job and at home. Ergonomics improve your workspace and environment to minimize the risk of injury or harm. 

In addition to physical therapy, there are medications to help manage your pain. Myalgia from overuse usually responds well to OTC pain relievers. Fibromyalgia usually responds to prescription medicines including anti-seizure drugs (such as Lyrica) and anti-depressants (Cymbalta), which offers help by focusing on the body’s chemical responses to pain. Additionally, injected pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs can be directly given into a painful area to decrease pain. 

Myalgia pain can also be managed by treating the underlying condition causing it, such as with autoimmune diseases. 

Autoimmune diseases are known for causing systemic (whole body) inflammation that can be managed by treating the underlying disease. Inflammation is the biological response the body will use to protect itself from infection and foreign substances. It causes symptoms of swelling, warmth, redness, pain, and loss of function.  

Managing Myalgia

Most muscle aches and pains respond well to home remedies. Some things you can do to relieve acute muscle pain include: 

  • resting the area with the aches and pains
  • taking OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • alternating between ice and heat to reduce swelling and relieve pain
  • gently stretching muscles
  • avoiding high impact activity until the pain goes away
  • doing stress relief exercises such as yoga and meditation to relieve muscle tension 

A Word From Verywell 

For many people, myalgia is short-lived. However, it can also be a sign of a more serious medical condition. If you are experiencing joint pain, fevers, fatigue, rashes, swelling, and tenderness, you should not ignore these symptoms. Talk to your doctor about finding out the source of myalgia and your treatment options.  

Muscle pain can be managed and successfully treated and there are plenty of options if one does not work for you. There is no reason to live with muscle pain and it is possible to have a full life despite it. 

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