Myalgia (Muscle Pain): Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Myalgia (Muscle Pain): Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Myalgia is the medical term for muscle pain. It’s a common complaint in people of all ages. Daily life stress or tension to more debilitating health conditions can all cause muscle pain and affect your quality of life. Myalgia is often due to muscle injury, overuse, or tension. The pain is generally temporary, but conditions like lupus or fibromyalgia may cause chronic (long-term) muscle pain that needs ongoing treatment.

There are two main forms of myalgia, including:

  • Localized myalgia: Pain that occurs in specific muscles or muscle groups. This type often occurs due to muscle overuse, injury, tension, or infection. As the muscle(s) heals, the pain typically goes away.
  • Diffuse myalgia: Pain that occurs and spreads throughout the body. Systemic (body-wide) infections like the flu or COVID-19 can cause temporary diffuse muscle pain. Chronic conditions like lupus, thyroid disease, or liver disease can cause chronic pain.

Pain in one or more muscles is the primary symptom of myalgia. Depending on the cause of your pain and what part of your body is affected, the pain can develop suddenly or gradually. How long your pain lasts (temporary or chronic) will also be determined by the underlying cause of your symptoms. Alongside pain, the most common symptoms of myalgia include:

  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Cramping
  • Redness or swelling around the muscle
  • Aching, burning, and throbbing sensations

Myalgia has many potential causes, and it can affect more than just the muscles. Myalgia may affect ligaments, tendons, and fascia (connective tissue) as well. The most common causes of myalgia include:

  • Muscle injury, strain, or overuse
  • Emotional stress and tension that manifests physically
  • Viral or bacterial infections like the flu or Lyme disease
  • Certain medications like statins (to lower cholesterol) or ACE inhibitors (to lower blood pressure)
  • Fibromyalgia (a chronic condition that causes musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep problems)
  • Rheumatic conditions that affect the muscles, joints, and bones such as osteoarthritis (OA) or inflammatory myopathy (chronic muscle inflammation)
  • Liver diseases like hepatitis (inflammation) and cirrhosis (scarring)
  • Endocrine conditions such as thyroid disease or adrenal insufficiency
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Autoimmune disorders like lupus or multiple sclerosis

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop myalgia, as this type of pain is quite common. However, certain groups may be at higher risk for developing myalgia. You may be at an increased risk of developing muscle pain if you:

  • Regularly perform repetitive motions or taxing physical activity
  • Live with an inflammatory condition such as inflammatory myopathy, polymyositis (a condition that causes inflamed muscles), or dermatomyositis (a condition that causes muscle weakness and skin rashes)
  • Experience symptoms of depression
  • Are assigned female at birth or are middle-aged
  • Have a family history of fibromyalgia

If you’re experiencing muscle pain that comes on rapidly or doesn’t go away, seeing your healthcare provider can help you understand the cause of your symptoms.

During your appointment, your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history, lifestyle habits, and current medications you’re taking. They’ll also ask about when you first started experiencing symptoms, where they began, how painful they are, and what triggers them. 

Your healthcare provider may then perform a series of exams to try to find the cause of your muscle pain. These tests may include:

  • Physical exam to evaluate your range of motion and assess symptoms like weakness or tenderness
  • Blood tests to check overall health status
  • Urinalysis (urine test) to assess kidney and liver function
  • Imaging scans to check for signs of injury or inflammation
  • Electromyogram (EMG) with nerve conduction studies to detect abnormalities with your muscles

Treatment for myalgia depends greatly on the suspected cause of your symptoms. However, the goal of treatment—regardless of the underlying cause is to reduce muscle pain. Treatments for common cause of myalgia may include:

Cause of Muscle Pain  Treatment Recommendation
Medication use Stopping the drug or switching to a new medicine
Muscle injury or strain Home remedies like rest, ice or heat therapy, massage, or over-the-counter pain medications
Stress or tension  Deep breathing, grounding exercises, meditation, and yoga to relax muscles and reduce pain
Fibromyalgia   Pain medications, talk therapy, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep
Infections Getting rest and taking antiviral or antibacterial medications
Other chronic conditions Treating the underlying condition as a whole to relieve muscle pain and any other symptoms you’re experiencing

Sometimes you cannot prevent muscle pain, especially when it results from a chronic condition. If your muscle pain is due to overuse, injury, strain, or stress, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing myalgia. Consider the following strategies:

  • Get regular exercise to keep muscles strong
  • Stretch before and after you exercise to keep muscles limber
  • Warm up before starting intense exercise to protect the muscles from injury
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoid sitting for long periods by taking breaks and stretching during the day
  • Try stress management techniques (like journaling, meditation, or spending time in nature) to prevent muscle tension

Myalgia is the medical term for muscle pain, which can occur for several reasons ranging from everyday stress, muscle injuries, or underlying health conditions. Determining the cause of the pain is the first step toward successful treatment.

While many cases of myalgia will resolve in a few days at home, some cases may be chronic and need ongoing treatment. Your exact treatment plan will depend on the cause of your symptoms but may include home remedies and medications.

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