An Overview of Myalgia

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Myalgia is the medical term for muscle pain. It can be a sign of muscle overuse or, in some cases, it can be a symptom of a medical condition. Myalgia can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). 

This article discusses what myalgia is and what can cause it. It also covers when to see a doctor and how it's usually treated.

Back Pain. Sport injury.
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Myalgia Symptoms

Muscle pain is the main symptom of myalgia. You may feel:

  • 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
  • Pain with rest or movement

This may feel similar to a pulled a muscle. Muscles can also be tender and swollen.

Myalgia may also be accompanied by other symptoms, including:

  • Fever and chills if there is an infection
  • Joint pain associated with muscle pain
  • Fatigue that interferes with your normal activity
  • Feeling depressed if the pain is constant

What Causes Myalgia?

Myalgia can have many different causes.

Acute myalgia usually happens suddenly with exercise, exertion, or illness. Chronic myalgia can be the result of various long-term conditions.

Acute Myalgia

Acute myalgia is typically short-lived and easily managed. The most common cause is exercise or muscle exertion.

Acute myalgia can also be the main symptom of many 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 common with many infections, especially the flu.
  • 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 contribute to muscle pain, including vitamin D and potassium deficiencies.

Myalgia can also be a side effect of some medications. When recognized early, these cases are acute and can be managed easily by switching to a different medication. For example, statins (cholesterol medicines) are known for causing muscle pain.

Glucocorticoids, immunologic drugs, and antimicrobials cause myopathies, or diseases that affect muscle tissue. Suddenly stopping high doses of these medications may trigger myalgia. The same is true of opioids, benzodiazepines, caffeine, and alcohol.

Chronic Myalgia

Chronic myalgia is often the main symptom of muscle and bone conditions, as well as autoimmune diseases (which occur when the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells).

Examples of some of these include:

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

Chronic myalgia can also be caused by a number of diseases or in response to certain triggers, such as trauma.

People who have chronic myalgia conditions usually have persistent or recurrent and widespread muscle pain. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

In some cases, myalgia can be a sign of a health issue that should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

It is a good idea to see your healthcare provider if:

  • Pain does not go away after a few days of home treatment.
  • Muscle pain is severe and has no known cause.
  • You have a rash.
  • You have been bitten by a tick.
  • You have redness and swelling.
  • Your pain continues despite the use of over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • You have a fever.

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

  • Water retention or decreased urine output
  • Problems swallowing
  • Trouble breathing or catching your breath
  • Neck stiffness
  • Weak muscles
  • Paralysis (inability to move the affected area)

Diagnosing Myalgia

Myalgia itself is a symptom, not a diagnosis. The diagnosis process is directed toward finding an underlying condition that may have triggered the onset of your muscle pain.

Getting to a diagnosis may include a number of steps:

  • Medical history is the initial one. The process involves a reviewing a complete history of injuries and illnesses you have/have had with your healthcare provider. All medications you're currently taking are covered as well.
  • Physical examination evaluates the area of pain, muscle tone, strength, and stiffness. It also includes an observation of gait (manner of walking) and posture.
  • Blood tests might show changes consistent with muscle damage, inflammation, or some underlying conditions.
  • Imaging, including X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, can be used to diagnose and rule out some causes of myalgia.

Condition-Specific Testing

Depending on the condition a healthcare provider suspects, they may perform additional diagnostic testing.

For example, specific blood work is done to identify autoimmune diseases, including testing for certain antibodies and genes.

Nerve conduction studies can determine whether the nerves supplying the muscles are functioning normally. This could be used to diagnose myositis, which causes inflammation and degeneration of muscle tissue.

Some muscle conditions, such as fibromyalgia, cannot easily be confirmed or ruled out with blood work or imaging. In this instance, your healthcare provider will rely on your symptoms and the ruling out of other conditions to reach a diagnosis.

Recap

If your healthcare provider thinks your myalgia is caused by a health condition, they may order blood tests and imaging. You may also have other tests for specific conditions, such as nerve conduction studies for myositis.

How Myalgia Is Treated

Treatment for myalgia depends on the cause and whether you have acute or chronic pain.

At-home treatment can often provide some relief for muscle pain. For pain that's chronic or accompanied by other symptoms, physical therapy or medications may be recommended.

Acute Myalgia Treatments

Cases of acute myalgia often respond well to home remedies. Some things you can do to relieve acute muscle pain include:

  • Resting the achy area
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen)
  • 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

Chronic Myalgia

Physical therapy is the most common treatment for chronic myalgia. It can increase flexibility in sore muscles and help strengthen the surrounding tissues.

A therapist can also help you find ways to manage stress and focus on ergonomics on the job and at home. Ergonomics can improve your workspace and environment to minimize the risk of injury or harm.

In addition to physical therapy, your healthcare provider might prescribe medications to help manage your pain. For example, myalgia from overuse usually responds well to OTC pain relievers.

Fibromyalgia sometimes improves with prescription medicines. These can include anti-seizure drugs Lyrica (pregabalin) and anti-depressants like Cymbalta (duloxetine), which modify the body’s chemical responses to pain. Additionally, pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs are sometimes directly injected into a painful area to decrease pain.

Autoimmune diseases cause excessive systemic (whole-body) inflammation. Treatment depends on the condition but may include medications such as corticosteroids, which can reduce inflammation.

Recap

Acute myalgia pain can often be managed with at-home remedies. This includes resting the muscles and using ice or heat on the painful area. Chronic myalgia pain can be managed by treating the underlying condition causing it, such as with autoimmune diseases. 

Summary

Myalgia is a medical term for muscle pain. It can be acute, or short-term, such as when you have sore muscles the day after exercising. It can also be chronic, or long-term, because of a health condition such as fibromyalgia.

Muscle pain can often be managed with at-home remedies like rest and over-the-counter pain medication. If it's chronic, your healthcare provider can do an examination and order tests to determine the right treatment for you.

A Word From Verywell

Muscle pain can be managed and successfully treated, but that starts with seeing your healthcare provider.

If you don't believe that your pain is being taken seriously, be sure to seek a second opinion.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between arthralgia and myalgia?

    Arthralgia is joint stiffness, while myalgia is muscle pain. You can experience both symptoms together due to injury or a medication side effect.

  • What is polymyalgia rheumatica?

    Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness in different areas of the body, particularly the neck, shoulders, and hips. The stiffness is typically worse after resting.

  • Why do statins cause myalgia?

    Myalgia due to statins may have multiple causes that interact with each other. Though the exact mechanism is not well understood, one study from 2019 found that statins cause calcium leaks from storage compartments in muscle cells. This can cause damage to muscle cells, sometimes leading to muscle pain.

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