Muscle aches can occur in adults and children. In many cases, sore and aching muscles are nothing to worry about and will resolve without medical treatment. However, muscle aches can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying illness.

Common causes of muscle aches include:

  • overexertion
  • trauma to an area of the body
  • viral infections

Muscle aches, also known as myalgia, can be felt in any area of the body that has muscles. Depending on the cause, the discomfort may be mild or extremely severe.

What are the causes of muscle aches?

The most common causes of muscle aches include:

Stress

Stress makes it harder for the body to fight off disease. In people who are unwell and stressed, the muscles may ache as the body struggles to combat inflammation or infection.

Symptoms of stress include:

  • heart palpitations or an increased heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • headaches
  • shaking
  • chest pains
  • feeling breathless or hyperventilating

People can try to combat stress by learning relaxation techniques and removing themselves from stressful situations where possible.

Nutritional deficit

A person may experience muscular aches and pains because they are not getting the proper nutrition from their diet.

Vitamin D plays a particularly important role in ensuring that the muscles function correctly. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium, and a deficiency can lead to hypocalcemia.

Hypocalcemia is a condition in which the blood calcium level is low, which can affect the bones and organs in addition to the muscles.

Dehydration

A person who is dehydrated may experience muscle aches.

Drinking enough water is vital to keep the body functioning properly as it can quickly begin to shut down without adequate fluids. Dehydration causes essential bodily functions, such as breathing and digestion, to become more difficult.

People should be aware of how much water they are drinking. The recommended amount is 6–8 glasses of water each day. If hot weather or exercise causes a person to sweat more than usual, they will need to drink more than this.

Sprains and strains

Strains, sprains, and other injuries can cause muscle pain and discomfort.

People may find that a particular area of the body becomes stiff and achy if it is injured. Pulling muscles can also cause muscle soreness.

Some sprains and strains do not need treatment, but a person should rest, take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, or use heat packs to ease the symptoms.

However, if the injury is causing significant pain, restricting normal movement, or not improving with time, it is advisable to make an appointment with a doctor.

Sleep deficiencies

A lack of sleep can have a severe impact on the body.

Sleep allows the body to rest and recuperate, and a person’s muscles may ache if they do not get enough sleep.

A lack of quality sleep can also make people feel sluggish and slow. It can affect people’s ability to think clearly and make it harder for them to carry out everyday tasks.

Too much physical activity

Overdoing exercise can lead to stiff, sore muscles.

The following factors can make a person more susceptible to muscle aches and pains when exercising:

  • being unused to exercise
  • trying a new exercise
  • exercising more intensely or for longer than usual
  • failing to warm up or stretch properly

Infections, diseases, and hereditary conditions

Many different medical issues can cause muscle aches. Conditions that most commonly affect the muscles include:

  • anemia
  • arthritis
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • claudication
  • dermatomyositis
  • influenza, known as flu
  • fibromyalgia
  • lupus
  • Lyme disease
  • multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • pneumonia
  • mononucleosis, often called mono
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Symptoms of muscle aches

Some people who have muscle aches may notice the following symptoms alongside the soreness and discomfort in their muscles:

  • stiffness and weakness in the affected area
  • fever
  • a rash
  • a bite mark
  • dizziness
  • difficulty breathing
  • signs of infection, such as redness and swelling

Some of these symptoms, such as a very high fever or difficulty breathing, will require immediate medical attention.

If the cause of the ache is a strain, an injury, tension, or stress, people will usually feel discomfort in a particular area.

When aches occur throughout the entire body, this is more likely to be due to an infection, medication, or underlying illness.

Home remedies for muscle aches

Home remedies are often sufficient to relieve aches resulting from minor injuries, too much exercise, or stress.

Many people can treat their symptoms using the R.I.C.E method, which involves:

  • Rest: Rest the affected area and discontinue the activity that caused the injury.
  • Ice: Use an ice pack or bag of frozen peas to help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Apply ice to the area for 15–20 minutes three times a day.
  • Compression: Use a compression bandage to help reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: If possible, elevate the feet to minimize inflammation.

Other helpful home remedies include:

  • using OTC pain relievers
  • carefully stretching out the affected muscles
  • taking part in activities that encourage relaxation and reduce stress, such as yoga and meditation
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When to see a doctor

Muscle aches and pains that are severe or do not resolve may be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires medical assessment and treatment.

A person should see a doctor if they:

  • notice any signs of infection, such as redness and swelling
  • have a tick bite
  • develop a rash
  • believe that medication is causing the muscle pain

It is crucial to seek immediate medical assistance if muscle pain occurs alongside:

  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling dizzy
  • a stiff neck and high fever
  • muscle weakness
  • an inability to move the affected area
  • vomiting
  • a reduction in urine volume or sudden water retention

Takeaway

People may be able to prevent aching muscles from occurring due to tension, stress, and intense physical activity by doing the following:

  • stretching before exercising
  • exercising regularly to keep muscles toned
  • warming up before exercise and cooling down afterward
  • taking regular breaks if sitting for extended periods

Most causes of muscle aches are benign, but persistent aching may require medical care.

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