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. For most people, their muscles feel so sore and achy it hurts to move. Additionally, body aches can leave you feeling weak, fatigued, and extremely exhausted. Fortunately, they can be treated and managed successfully. 

coping with flu body aches

Verywell / Michela Buttignol

Causes

When a person gets the flu, natural chemicals are released in the body to help it fight off the infection. Muscle aches and pain are produced by this immune response. While it may not feel like it, body aches are a good sign because your body is doing what it is supposed to do to help you get better.

Dehydration may also contribute to body aches when you have the flu. The body always needs water to prevent muscle cramping and soreness, and this is even more important when you are sick. 

Risk Factors

Some people experience aches and pains every time they get the flu, while others rarely 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 off the infection. Anytime the body has to work harder, more aches and pains are experienced.

People who live in colder climates may experience more body aches with the flu as well. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it is more prone to soreness. The flu also makes the body’s resistance to cold temperatures weaker than it usually is.

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

There are several things you can do to help manage your body aches as you try to recover from the flu. 

Take a Pain Reliever

Over-the-counter pain relievers may help make you more comfortable. 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, due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Stay Hydrated

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

To help your body stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, broth, tea, electrolyte drinks, and sports drinks, and choose soup if you're having trouble eating as well.

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 even 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 fight off the infection.

Apply Heat or Take a Warm Bath

A warm bath or shower can help loosen your muscles and relieve body pain, but if you have a fever, the water should be kept lukewarm to avoid raising your temperature. Since fevers can cause dizziness and general weakness, it's best to avoid showering if you are experiencing these symptoms. Children with a fever or cold symptoms should also be monitored when taking a shower or bath to avoid injury.

Heating pads and heated blankets can relieve some of your pain. Be careful not to use excessive heat to avoid burns, and 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, a 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, but a friend or family member can lend a hand as well. Massaging with topical relief creams may improve blood flow and further ease your aches; just keep in mind that flu viruses are contagious, and anyone who gives you a massage could be put at risk.

Use a Vaporizer or Humidifier

Dry air can increase your risk of catching flu-like pathogens or make your 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 fend the virus off.

Maintaining a relative humidity of 40-60% can reduce the spread of transmission through your home 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.

When to See a Doctor

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

You should also seek medical attention for muscle aches if:

  • There are signs of infection, such as redness or swelling, around a muscle
  • There is poor circulation in the area that hurts (for example, your legs)
  • You have recently been bitten by a tick
  • Pain doesn't improve within three days

Call 911 or go to your local emergency room if:

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

Some people, especially children, may experience very painful leg cramps with the flu. Leg cramps can be so painful that walking is difficult or accompanied by a limp. If your child is complaining of leg pain in his or her calves or refuses to walk, contact your family's pediatrician to determine if an evaluation and treatment are necessary.

Could It Be Something Else?

The flu virus can sometimes be confused for other conditions, such as pneumonia. If you have a cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, fatigue, and low appetite, in addition to a sharp chest pain, a fever that doesn't go away, or you are coughing up a lot of phlegm, see your doctor to rule pneumonia out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does COVID-19 cause body aches?

Yes, COVID-19 can cause body aches. Usually, this symptom follows the onset of a cough and fever. To ease these symptoms, you may be able to take over-the-counter acetaminophen but talk to your doctor to be sure.

How long does it take to get over flu symptoms?

It should take three to seven days to recover from the flu if you have no other health issues. However, older adults, infants, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions may recover more slowly and are at risk for complications and additional health problems.

A Word From Verywell

Flu symptoms can vary depending on the strain of the flu and the person who is sick. For many people, the stages of the flu begin with body aches, which are one of the most common flu symptoms. When everything from your head and neck to your legs feels sore, it can be very difficult to relax and take care of yourself. Do your best to relieve the pain and support your immune system, and take comfort in knowing that with time and TLC, you'll be ache-free and on your way.

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Article 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. Updated October 26, 2018.