Muscle Pain Overview

What is it?

Muscle pain refers to pain and inflammation in the body's soft tissues.

There are nearly 700 muscles in the human body. Skeletal muscle accounts for about 40 per cent of body weight.

Muscle aches and pains – also known as Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS) – are common.

Muscle pain can involve a single muscle or a muscle group. It can also involve ligaments, tendons, and fascia – the soft tissues that connect muscles, bones, and organs.

In some cases, “trigger points” from the actual injury or the strain can cause pain in other areas. This is known as referred pain.

Most muscle pain occurs in the neck, shoulder, lower back and hips.

      

What causes it?

The most common causes are injury or trauma (including sprains and strains) and overuse.

But not all muscle pain is related to injury or strain.

Muscle pain is also frequently related to tension.

And there are several medical conditions that can cause muscle pain, including fibromyalgia, infections like the flu or Lyme disease and lupus.

One common cause of muscle aches and pain is fibromyalgia, a condition that includes tenderness in your muscles and surrounding soft tissue.

Tension due to stress or poor posture can also cause muscle fatigue and pain, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and back.

Muscle pain is a common reaction to injury, intense exercise, or physical labor.

Overdoing it at the gym, straining an ankle, or simply slouching at your desk can result in muscle pain ranging from minor to severe.

Muscles are sprained when they are placed under an excessive physical load. The sprain does not normally affect the whole muscle, but is usually confined to one or two small muscles fibres within the main body of the muscle.

The sprain causes a rupture of a few muscle cells, producing initial pain and inflammation, and which usually settles within 1-2 weeks. 

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) – an inflammatory rheumatic condition – can also cause muscle pain.

It mainly affects people over the age of 50 and the cause is unknown.

Symptoms can start abruptly, or they can come on over a week or two.

PMR causes sudden or abrupt pain and morning stiffness, mainly in and around the shoulders and thighs (it may also affect the neck and torso).

Muscle inflammation (also known as polymyositis) is another source of muscle pain.

 

Common treatments

Most muscle pain does not require medical attention.

If you can’t determine the cause of your pain, however, or if the pain hasn’t improved after three days of home treatment, you should seek professional treatment.

In some chronic cases of myofascial pain, combinations of physical therapy, trigger point injections, and massage are needed.

Medications (such as ibuprofen), ointments and pain relief oils can also be used to be treat some muscle pain.

Pain can also be treated by applying ice within 24 hours to reduce swelling. Also, heat can be applied to soothe aching muscles.

Muscle aches from overuse and fibromyalgia often respond well to massage.

Gentle stretching exercises after a long rest period are also helpful. A physical therapist can teach you stretching, toning, and aerobic exercises to feel better and stay pain-free.

Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to help you sleep and relax.

PMR is usually treated with corticosteroid drugs to help reduce inflammation.

In most cases, there's a quick response and improvement (often within 24 to 48 hours).

If home measures aren't working, call your doctor, who will consider prescription medication, physical therapy referral, or referral to a specialised pain clinic.