Why are my muscles sore?

Suffering from aching muscles? Been overdoing it in the gym? Muscle aches, (doctors use the fancy word : ‘myalgia’), are very common.

What caused my muscle-ache?

Working that out often depends on whether the aches are localised to a few muscles, or whether they can be felt throughout the body.

Some common causes of local muscle pain can include:

  • overuse strains and sprains
  • muscle injury
  • tension and stress

Some common causes of muscle aches felt throughout the body can include:

  • infections (flu, tickbite fever, malaria etc.)
  • fibromyalgia
  • lupus
  • dermatomyositis, polymyositis
  • side effects of medication (especially, statin medication to lower cholesterol)
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • underactive thyroid gland
  • blood circulation problems (claudication: where pain in the calf muscles is brought on by exercise and relieved by rest)
  • electrolyte disturbances (low potassium, low magnesium, low calcium)

What can I do to make it better?

For local muscle aches consider the following:

  • R.I.C.E. (R = rest, I = ice the area, C = apply a compression bandage, E = elevate the affected limb)
  • over-the-counter anti-inflammatories/painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen)
  • apply ice to a sprain for 1-3 days
  • apply heat only after 3 days
  • physiotherapy (to help stretch, tone and gradually re-introduce exercise)
  • try yoga, get more sleep, look at ways to decrease stress
  • avoid high-impact exercise and weight lifting

For more generalised muscle aches throughout the body, treatment will be more specific, depending on the cause.

When should I see the doctor?

Don’t leave a persistent pain without seeking a doctor’s advice…it could be something more serious! Rather see your doctor if any of the following is present:

  • pain persisting for more than 3 days
  • fever
  • rash, and/or a bite
  • redness and swelling
  • a stiff neck with a fever
  • muscle weakness
  • shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain
  • severe pain without an obvious cause – claudication (where pain in the calf muscles is brought on by exercise and relieved by rest)
  • a recent change/new medication associated with muscle aches
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