How to Treat Body Aches Caused by the Flu

Why everything hurts and what you can do about it

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One of the most distinct symptoms of the flu (influenza) is painful body aches.

Many people report that their muscles feel so sore and achy that it hurts to move. Worse, body aches can leave you feeling weak, fatigued, and even exhausted. Fortunately, these symptoms can be treated and managed successfully. 

This article explains the causes and risk factors of the flu. Body aches are a sure sign of the flu, and they can be treated in multiple ways.

coping with flu body aches

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Causes

The flu is a respiratory infection triggered by a virus. When you catch the flu, natural chemicals are released in your body to help it fight the infection. Muscle aches and pain are produced by this immune response.  Body aches may not cause you to celebrate, but they're actually a good sign. Your body is doing what it's supposed to do to help you feel better.

Dehydration may also contribute to body aches when you have the flu. Even when you're healthy, your body needs water to prevent muscle cramping and soreness. Fluid is even more important when you're ill. 

The flu can trigger other symptoms, too, such as chills, coughing, fever, headache, and sore throat. The common cold may cause the same symptoms, though they're usually milder. Body aches, fever, fatigue, and headache can be severe with the flu. Also, colds tend to sneak up on people over the course of several days. The flu can strike out of nowhere and cause you to feel weaker and weaker.

Risk Factors

Some people experience aches and pains every time they get the flu. Others seldom do. Older adults and people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases, tend to experience more aches when they have the flu because their bodies have a harder time fighting the infection. 

Anytime the body has to work harder, you can count on feeling more aches and pains. People who live in colder climates may experience more body aches with the flu than people who live in warm regions. Cold temperatures can make the muscles tighten up.

Still, there is good news: The flu—and the aches it causes—usually goes away in a few days to less than two weeks. And several treatment options can help usher the flu away.

Is It the Flu?

In addition to body aches, common flu symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, and fatigue. Some people may have a fever, and less commonly, vomiting or diarrhea.

Treatment

Take charge of your body aches and recover from the flu by following some common sense steps: 

Take a Pain Reliever

Over-the-counter pain relievers may help you feel better. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are more likely to help with aches than other pain relievers, like Tylenol (acetaminophen). Examples of NSAIDs include Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen), aspirin, and Aleve (naproxen).

If you can't take NSAID pain relievers due to kidney problems, stomach issues, or other medical concerns, talk to your healthcare provider about alternative treatments for your body aches.

Aspirin should not be given to children under age 18, especially when they have the flu. Aspirin intake poses a risk of Reye's syndrome, which can attack the liver and lungs.

Stay Hydrated

When you're sick with a flu or fever, your body tends to lose more fluids due to excess sweating, and, in some cases, vomiting or diarrhea. Drinking lots of clear liquids to restore bodily fluids can help your body fight infection.

Try water, broth, tea, electrolyte drinks, and sports drinks. Soup is a good choice if you're having trouble digesting solid food.

Get Plenty of Rest

Sleep plays a big role in regulating many of the immune functions that are necessary for healing and reducing inflammation in the body. Painful body aches may make resting uncomfortable, but forcing yourself to relax when you have the flu is important. Getting as much sleep and rest as you can gives your body the best chance to fend off infection.

Apply Heat or Take a Warm Bath

A warm bath or shower can help loosen your muscles and relieve body pain. If you have a fever, keep the water lukewarm to avoid raising your temperature.

Since fevers can cause dizziness and general weakness, it's best to avoid showering. Children with a fever or cold symptoms should be monitored when taking a shower or bath to avoid injury. Heating pads and heated blankets may relieve some body aches. Just be careful not to use excessive heat to avoid burns. Consider setting a timer if there's a chance you might fall asleep.

Ease Aches With a Massage

Though receiving a massage won't likely cure your flu overnight, it can indirectly help you recover faster. In addition to alleviating body aches, massage therapy can reduce levels of cortisol. This is the stress hormone that weakens your immunity by impairing certain infection-fighting white blood cells.

Many massage therapists do not treat people when they are sick. So consider asking a friend or family member to lend a hand (literally). And give them a germ-protecting face mask for their trouble. Massaging with topical relief creams may further improve blood flow and ease your body aches.

Use a Vaporizer or Humidifier

Dry air can make flu symptoms worse. When a flu virus enters your respiratory tract, it gets caught in mucus, which helps prevent infection from spreading. However, when the air is cold and dry, mucus dries up in your airways, making it more difficult for your body to fight the virus.

Maintaining a relative humidity between 40% and 60% in your home can reduce the spread of transmission and relieve respiratory symptoms, such as cough and nasal congestion. It can also help fast-track your healing by reducing pain and inflammation in your throat and helping you sleep better.

Try To Rule Out Pneumonia


The flu can sometimes be confused for other conditions, such as pneumonia. The warning signs include:

  • A deep or raspy cough
  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath


Call your healthcare provider to make an appointment, especially if you experience chest pain and shortness of breath, which are not normally linked to the flu.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Severe body aches deserve the attention of your healthcare provider. Seek medical attention if:

  • The aches don't improve within three days
  • There is poor circulation in the area that hurts (for example, your legs)
  • You notice signs of infection, such as redness or swelling, around a muscle

Some people develop a serious complication from the flu. Call 911 or go to your local emergency room if:

  • You are vomiting and also have a stiff neck and fever
  • You have difficulty breathing
  • You have muscle weakness or cannot move part of your body

Some people, especially children, may experience painful leg cramps with the flu. Leg cramps can be so painful that walking is difficult or accompanied by a limp. If your child complains of leg pain in the calves or refuses to walk, contact your pediatrician to see if if an evaluation is necessary.

Summary

Triggered by a virus, the flu is a respiratory infection that can linger for weeks. This is a long time when your entire body may be throbbing with aches and pains. To combat them, try taking pain relievers, staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest, sleeping, taking a warm bath, getting a massage, and using a vaporizer. Sometimes, the flu can grow into a more serious condition, like pneumonia. So stay alert for such symptoms as chest pain, chills, fever and shortness of breath. And contact your doctor if they develop.

A Word From Verywell

Flu symptoms can vary depending on the strain of the flu and the person who is sick. When everything from your head to your legs feels sore, it can be difficult to relax and take care of yourself. But try to do your best to relieve the pain and support your immune system. And take comfort in knowing that with time and TLC, you'll soon be ache-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to get over flu symptoms?

    It can take from three to seven days to recover from most symptoms of the flu, but the fatigue can last for several weeks. Older adults, infants, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions may recover more slowly. They are at risk for complications and additional health problems.

  • What is the best medicine for body aches?

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) may help reduce body aches. A few of these include Advil (ibuprofen), aspirin, and Aleve (naproxen). Always be sure to follow the instructions on the product packaging. If you aren't able to take any of these pain relievers, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is another option.

  • Does COVID-19 cause body aches?

    Yes, COVID-19 can cause body aches. Usually, this symptom follows the onset of a cough and fever.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Flu.