What is Muscle Pain?
Muscle pain or myalgia, can be described as pain or achiness which can be felt in different parts of the body.
We have three types of muscle: skeletal, smooth and cardiac. Each one forms an important part of our body
Pain or achiness in the muscles are a common symptom which nearly everyone has felt at some point in their life. It can have serious a cause, but mostly it’s down to overexertion.
Our body has more than 600 muscles to help us go about our daily lives. If we didn’t have muscles we couldn’t walk or run, sit down or stand up, or even lift a small object.
Muscles also help stabilize joints, for example in the knees or shoulders, to help with the movement.
Muscle pain has a variety of possible causes. But the pain is triggered in the nerve connected to the muscle, by two types of chemicals: adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and protons H+.
Whenever an injury, strain or inflammation affects a muscle or tissue, the body releases the chemicals, which then sparks a chainreaction to inform the brain of the event. (1)
We will now explore different causes of muscle pain:
A muscle cramp is a common cause of pain that can happen in the skeletal muscles or soft muscles. It can happen by overusing a muscle, or simply from dehydration.
The cramp causes the muscle to contract involuntary, it may cause momentary loss of function in the muscle. But it usually goes away within a few seconds or minutes. (2)
For some people it can be felt as an excruciating pain, but it’s typically nothing serious. However, if the pain doesn’t subside within a few hours, it’s good to consult a doctor.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition. It causes extensive pain and tenderness in the muscles, along with fatigue.
In some cases it can be associated with arthritis. However, fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation in the joints. (3)
Anyone can be affected by fibromyalgia, although middle aged women present a higher risk. (4)
Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)
ME/CFS is a complicated and debilitating condition, which interferes with daily life.
It brings a devastating feeling of fatigue that cannot be cured with rest and is sometimes worsened by either mental or physical activity. Muscle pain and stiffness are common symptoms.
Causes of ME/CFS are unknown til now, and experts acknowledge more research is needed to understand why some people develop it. It has however shown that caucasian people are more often diagnosed and prevalence is higher in women than in men. (5)
This condition causes pain and stiffness in the muscles, usually in the hips, shoulders or neck, but can affect other regions of the body.
For many people this condition takes years to develop. However, for some it can appear overnight.
Pain and stiffness typically start when the person has been inactive for a longer time. But for many it goes away within 30 minutes of movement.
Polymyositis is a condition defined within the group of inflammatory myopathies. (6)
It causes inflammation and weakness of the skeletal muscles, making it difficult for the affected to move.
The condition brings on symptoms such as muscle pain, shortness of breath and difficulty talking or swallowing. In some cases it can develop into arthritis.
Polymyositis mostly affects people over 30 years of age.
Temporomandibular Joint and Muscle Disorder (TMJ)
TMJ is a disorder which causes pain and dysfunction in the joints and muscles of the jaw which can restrict the movements.
It’s typically divided into three categories: myofascial pain, internal derangement and arthritis. (7)
It is possible for one person to experience all three categories at the same time. In fact experts estimate around 10 million americans experience this disorder. (8)
Rhabdomyolysis is a rare symptom which causes muscle tissue to breakdown and leak into the bloodstream. In extreme cases it could lead to kidney failure. This is because some proteins found in muscle tissue are damaging for the kidneys.
It’s a rare disorder, which can also lead to paralysis.
Studies indicate, people who take statin medication more often develop the disorder. (9)
Exercise Induced Pain
There are two types of exercise induced muscle pain: pain experienced during and pain experienced after exercise.
Pain during exercise is believed to be caused by lactic acid, ions, proteins and hormones which are released during overexertion and strains on muscles.
About 24 to 48 hours after exercise, soreness and possibly loss of strength can occur. Studies have shown this to be a form of muscle damage possibly due to inflammatory reactions. Yet, it is not known for sure what the exact cause of these pains are. (10)
Strains and Sprains
Sprains can occur when falling, twisting or injuring a joint. When doing so, the ligaments of the joint stretches or tears. This can cause mild to severe pain.
Strains happen by over exerting a muscle, either by lifting something that was too heavy or by excessive use of a muscle recently affected by an injury.
However, the knock on effects of both these actions can sometimes take days to develop. (11)
Muscle pain is often a symptom for other conditions and complications. However, there are a few symptoms associated with muscle pain.
Localized or Widespread
It’s common to feel tenderness or achiness in a specific part of your body following a injury or infection. Sometimes the pain can be felt in other parts as well. It can range from mild to debilitating, sometimes even a sharp feeling.
Constant or Inconstant
Some people may feel constant pain in the muscle affected, while for others, it could last for a few minutes, then subside and return.
It’s common for people who feel pain to develop depression, but sometimes it can also be a vice versa scenario.
A study between the links of depression and pain revealed the following: people who reported several physical discomforts, had greater chance of becoming depressed, as opposed to those who only reported a few. (13)
This is because neurotransmitters for pain and mood are the same. Therefore during mentally stressful times, it can cause a dysfunction where bad mood is reported as pain. (14)
Because muscle pain is often a symptom, doctors must find the underlying issue which has caused the pain.
Your doctor will try to figure out what caused the pain by asking a series of questions.
It is important to tell your doctor when the pain started, if it’s constant or inconstant, and where it is located. If you recently have been in an accident or gained an injury, it must be noted.
If you show any other symptoms such as fever, sweats, nausea or even weight loss, it should also be mentioned.
Your doctor might also examine your posture and movements to check for any abnormalities. If any pain is felt, you must speak up.
Your doctor might also check for muscle wasting or contracture of fingers. (15)
Your strength and muscle tone will be examined through resistance exercises and range-of-motion.
Lastly, your doctor will check over your muscles and joints. They will look for any signs of tenderness, spasms, or whether any swelling or change of color in the skin has taken place.
Your doctor might do a blood test to rule out any inflammation or a more serious condition that could be behind the pain. Tests may include: complete blood count (CBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and serological tests.
A urine test could also be requested, this would be to rule out any breakdown in muscle or tissue.
What is muscle pain? Muscle pain is discomfort and achiness felt in a muscle. It can be in one specific muscle, or it can be widespread. The pain can range from mild to severe.
What causes muscle pain? Typically muscle pain is caused by overexertion of a muscle, either during exercise or strenuous work. But it can also be caused by more serious conditions such as fibromyalgia, which causes extensive pain.
How do doctors test for muscle pain causes? Doctors use a range of exercises to check for strength and mobility and if they see a need for further investigation, tests might include: CBC test, ESR test, serological tests, or by a urine sample.
When should you go to the doctors with muscle pain? If the pain doesn’t subside within a few days, it’s a good idea to go see the doctor. If you are experiencing severe pain and loss of movement medical treatment should be sought immediately.
Can you prevent muscle pain? Stretching a couple times a day is a good way to prevent muscle pain, especially in the mornings and before and after exercise. Eating antioxidant-enriched foods or taking supplements can also help prevent pain and soreness. Although, consult your doctor beforehand. (16)
What can relieve muscle pain? Home remedies such as cold or hot patches can be applied to the affected muscle and should relieve the pain. Massages and special creams can also be used. If these remedies don’t relieve the pain there are some over-the-counter medicines that can help, such as analgesics. (17)
Can foods trigger muscle pain? There’s no specific food which triggers muscle pain, but some ingredients can cause inflammation which can lead to muscle pain. This could point towards, too much sugar, saturated or trans fats, refined carbohydrates and alcohol. (18)
Can muscle pain be psychological? Muscle tension or pain can be caused by an anxiety disorder. It’s common for people suffering from anxiety to have headaches or feel pain of this kind. In fact, it can even be a good indicator. However, there are some of which who can develop a more serious condition such as fibromyalgia or arthritis. (19)
Muscle pain, or myalgia is a common complaint. Almost everyone will experience this symptom at some point in their life. In most cases it’s nothing more than overexertion, sprain or strain of a muscle.
However, it can be an indicator of a more serious issue such as fibromyalgia or rhabdomyolysis, which can lead to kidney failure.
Thankfully, in most cases home remedies such as cold patches or massages can be used to relieve the pain, of which you will find usually subsides within a few days.