Muscle pain is most frequently related to tension, overuse, or muscle injury from exercise or physically-demanding work. In these situations, the pain tends to involve specific muscles and starts during or just after the activity. It is usually obvious which activity is causing the pain.
Muscle pain also can be a sign of conditions affecting your whole body, like some infections (including the flu) and disorders that affect connective tissues throughout the body (such as lupus).
One common cause of muscle aches and pain is fibromyalgia, a condition that includes tenderness in your muscles and surrounding soft tissue, sleep difficulties, fatigue, and headaches.
For muscle pain from overuse or injury, rest that body part and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Apply ice for the first 24 - 72 hours of an injury to reduce pain and inflammation. After that, heat often feels more soothing.
Muscle aches from overuse and fibromyalgia often respond well to massage. Gentle stretching exercises after a long rest period are also helpful.
Regular exercise can help restore proper muscle tone. Walking, cycling, and swimming are good aerobic activities to try. A physical therapist can teach you stretching, toning, and aerobic exercises to feel better and stay pain-free. Begin slowly and increase workouts gradually. Avoid high-impact aerobic activities and weight lifting when injured or while in pain.
Be sure to get plenty of sleep and try to reduce stress. Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to help you sleep and relax.
If home measures aren't working, your health care provider may prescribe medication or physical therapy, or refer you to a specialized pain clinic.
If your muscle aches are due to a specific disease, follow the instructions of your health care provider to treat the primary illness.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
Your muscle pain persists beyond 3 days
You have severe, unexplained pain
You have any sign of infection, like swelling or redness around the tender muscle
You have poor circulation in the area where you have muscles aches (for example, in your legs)
You have a tick bite or a rash
Your muscle pain has been associated with starting or changing doses of a medicine, such as a statin
Call 911 if:
You have sudden weight gain, water retention, or you are urinating less than usual
You are short of breath or have difficulty swallowing
You have muscle weakness or cannot move any part of your body
You have vomiting, a very stiff neck, or high fever
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your health care provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your muscle pain, such as:
When did it start? How long did it last?
Where is it exactly? Is it all over or only in a specific area?
Is it always in the same location?
What makes it better or worse?
Do other symptoms occur at the same time, like joint pain, fever, vomiting, weakness, malaise, or difficulty using the affected muscle?
Brinker MR, O'Connor DP, Almekinders LC, et al. Physiology of injury to musculoskeletal structures: 1. Muscle and tendon injury. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 1, section A.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.