The Flu and Body Aches

Flu aches and pains
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One of the most distinct symptoms of the flu (influenza) is painful body aches. For most people, they are unlike typical tiredness that comes with other illnesses. Instead, your muscles feel so sore and achy that it hurts to move.

Some people (usually children) may experience very painful leg cramps when they get the flu. They can be so painful that walking is difficult or you may notice your child limping when he is walking. If your child is complaining of leg pain in her calves or she refuses to walk, contact her health care provider to determine if she needs an evaluation and discuss treatment options.

What Can You Do?

So you know these painful body aches and pains are normal, but is there anything you can do about them?

Over-the-counter pain relievers may help make you more comfortable. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are more likely to help with the aching than other pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol).

Examples of NSAIDs: ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), aspirin, and naproxen (Aleve). If you can't take one of these pain relievers for your muscle aches due to kidney problems, stomach issues or other medical conditions, talk to your healthcare provider about what option may be most helpful to you. Aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 18 - especially when they have the flu - due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Ensuring you get enough to drink when you are sick is important as well. Dehydration can make your body aches more painful and can make it more difficult for you to recover. Drink plenty of water, broth, electrolyte drinks or sports drinks even if you don't feel like eating to help your body stay hydrated.

Rest as much as possible. Painful body aches make you uncomfortable anyway but forcing yourself to rest when you have the flu is important. Getting as much sleep and rest as you can give your body the best chance to heal and fight the infection.

When Should You Worry?

Although body aches are normal with the flu, if they become much more severe than you would expect, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Also, seek medical attention for muscle aches with:

  • Signs of a local infection such as redness or swelling around one muscle
  • Poor circulation in the area that hurts (like your legs)
  • You have been bit by a tick in the past month or so
  • Pain that doesn't start to improve within three days
  • You have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath - Call 911
  • You have muscle weakness or cannot move part of your body - Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention
  • You have vomiting, a stiff neck and fever - Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention

Unfortunately, muscle and body aches are one of the common symptoms of the flu. Something you will have to deal with if you get it but also one of the few things that distinguish influenza from symptoms of the common cold or other respiratory infections.

As always, if you are concerned about your body aches or symptoms, contact your healthcare provider for advice.

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Article Sources
  • "Treatment". Symptoms & Treatment 2014. US Department of Health and Human Services.
  • "Muscle Aches". MedlinePlus 8 Sep 14. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Miller MD, Marc L. "Viral Myositis". UptoDate 11Jun 14. UptoDate, Inc.