- What are the causes of unexplained muscle aches?
- Sore Muscles from Exercise
- Path to well being
- Things to consider
- When to see your doctor
- Questions to ask your doctor
- Home Remedies for Muscle and Joint Pain
- Quick Fixes for Sore Muscles
- Some Muscle Soreness Is a Good Thing, but It Shouldn’t Last for Too Long
- Does Warming Up Lessen Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?
- 6 Things You Can You Do During and After Your Workout to Ease Muscle Soreness
- What is the best home remedy for sore muscles?
- 1 – Ice or heat
- 2 – Rest and elevate
- 3 – Get a massage
- 4 – Try Atrogel
- 5 – Hydrate
- 6 – Get some magnesium!
- 7 – Get more sleep
- 8 – Try turmeric
- 9 – Mindful movement
- 10 – Avoid inflammatory foods
- 11 – Try a painkiller
- 12 – Does apple cider vinegar help with sore muscles?
- 24 Home Remedies for Muscle Pain
- Muscle Pain: Possible Causes
- Medicines for back pain
- ‘Good Pain’ Versus ‘Bad Pain’ for Athletes
- What is the difference between good pain and bad pain?
- What are the signs of bad pain?
- How can this pain be treated?
- When should I be concerned about bad pain?
- What about the pain that occurs with an injury?
- Muscle aches
What are the causes of unexplained muscle aches?
The most common causes of muscle aches include:
Share on PinterestStress can cause muscle aches, as well as headaches and shaking.
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
- chest pains
- feeling breathless or hyperventilating
People can try to combat stress by learning relaxation techniques and removing themselves from stressful situations where possible.
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.
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.
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:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- influenza, known as flu
- Lyme disease
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- mononucleosis, often called mono
Sore Muscles from Exercise
Exercise is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle. It improves your heart and lungs, and builds strong bones and muscles. However, exercise can cause sore muscles. This is common if you try a new exercise or increase your intensity. You may use new muscles, strain your muscles, or get small tears in your muscle fibers.
Path to well being
Your muscles may get sore right away. This is known as acute soreness. You may feel them ache or tighten up about 12 hours after you exercise. In some cases, the discomfort may peak 48 to 72 hours afterward. This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness. During this time, your muscles repair and strengthen themselves. Sore muscle pain can improve quickly or last several days.
To help relieve muscle soreness, try:
- gentle stretching
- muscle massage
- ice to help reduce inflammation
- heat to help increase blood flow to your muscles
- over-the-counter pain medicine, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen.
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid sore muscles. It is part of getting stronger and healthier. There are some things you can do to help lessen the amount of soreness.
- Warm up. Studies show that warming up your muscles before exercise may be better than stretching them. It wakes up your muscles by increasing blood flow to them. To warm up, do light versions of certain exercises. These include slow jogging or biking, jumping rope, or lifting light weights.
- Drink water. Water helps control your body temperature, loosen your joints, and transport nutrients to create energy. Without water, your body will struggle to perform at its highest level. You may have muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, or more serious symptoms.
- Rest. Wait about 48 hours before working the same muscle groups. For example, running uses the muscles in your lower body. Give those muscles 2 days to rest and heal before you exercise them again. If you don’t rest, you can cause muscle fatigue or damage, rather than muscle growth and strength.
- Use proper technique. Doing exercises the right way helps protect you from muscle strain or injury. If you belong to a gym or health club, ask a trainer or instructor for help. They can show you the proper way to lift weights and use the machines and equipment.
- Cool down. It’s important to stretch after you work out. Your muscles are relaxed and more flexible when they are warm. Stretching also circulates blood away from your muscles and back to your heart to aid in recovery.
- Stay within your limits. You may be tempted to push yourself, but remember to progress slowly with exercise. Over time, you can increase the amount of weight you lift or the length of time you run. If you try to increase too soon, you may injure yourself.
Things to consider
Sore muscles are normal. They grow back strong and are able to work at a higher level of intensity. However, be careful that you don’t injure your muscles.
If you think you have a strain or a sprain, try the RICE approach.
- Rest: You may need to rest the injury all or part of the way. It will depend on how bad it is.
- Ice: Use ice packs, ice slush baths, or ice massages. These can decrease your swelling, pain, bruising, and muscle spasms. You can use ice for up to 3 days after the injury.
- Compression: You can wrap your injury to reduce swelling and bruising. Keep it wrapped for 1 or 2 days to a week after the injury.
- Elevation: Raise your injury at or above your heart. This helps prevent swelling and reduces bruising. Keep it elevated for 2 to 3 hours a day, if possible.
When to see your doctor
Contact your doctor or seek care if:
- Your muscle soreness lasts for more than a week.
- Your pain is unbearable and prevents you from moving.
- Your pain gets worse with exercise.
- Your pain causes dizziness or trouble breathing.
- You notice redness, swelling, or warmth in the sore muscles.
- The RICE treatment doesn’t work.
Questions to ask your doctor
- How does a sore muscle feel different from an injury?
- If I use a muscle while it is sore, am I at risk for injuring it?
Home Remedies for Muscle and Joint Pain
Pain felt in muscles and joints can be annoying, discomforting, and debilitating. By instinct, we want to immediately relieve pain the moment we first feel it, looking for a quick remedy that will go to work fast. Some forms of pain require more intense remedies, but there are some home remedies that you can use to help with muscle and joint pain. Here are a few home remedy ideas you can try the next time you experience pain in your muscles or joints:
Soaking in a tub of warm water with a couple of scoops of Epsom salt has been a proven method for addressing aching muscles over the years. Epsom salt is made up of magnesium sulfate, which is a natural muscle relaxant. It also helps to reduce swelling by drawing excess fluids out of muscle and joint tissue. Try soaking for 15 minutes at a time, 3 times a week.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Many have found that either drinking apple cider vinegar or rubbing it directly on the area of the sore muscle or joint can help to relieve pain. Those who drink it typically mix it with water and honey to help with the sour taste while others simply take a tablespoon full.
Drinking ginger tea is another way to relieve muscle pain. The anti-inflammatory properties in ginger make it an excellent remedy for both muscle and joint pain. In fact, research has shown encouraging results for those with OsteoArthritis who drink ginger tea.
Heat and Cold
Using hot and cold compresses helps to ease joint pain. Heat helps to increase blood flow, which relaxes sore muscles and joints and decreases pain. Cold treatment can reduce inflammation and can also numb the area around the aching muscle or joint. Most people will alternate between heat and cold for best results.
Containing an active ingredient called curcumin that is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric is an excellent remedy for joint and muscle pain. Studies have shown that using turmeric is as effective as using ibuprofen for pain relief for those with OsteoArthritis.
Garlic is rich in both sulfur and selenium, both of which can help to relieve joint and muscle pain. The sulfur in garlic helps to relieve inflammation, while selenium has an antirheumatic effect. This can be helpful for those with arthritis who tend to have low levels of selenium in the blood.
Of course, if you are experiencing pain on a regular basis, you may need more advanced treatment. Chronic joint pain could be a symptom of OsteoArthritis and should be addressed sooner than later. Arrowhead Health Centers has treatment plans available to help those with OsteoArthritis as they work to manage their pain and symptoms.
To learn more, call us at 623-334-4000, option 9, to set up a consultation.
Quick Fixes for Sore Muscles
RELATED: What You Should Know About Strength Training
It’s the eccentric, or lengthening muscle contractions, that are actually causing the soreness, says Jan Schroeder, PhD, chair of the department of kinesiology at California State University in Long Beach. Think: walking or jogging down a hill, or the lowering motion during a biceps curl or chest press. Your muscles typically sustain greater damage during these types of movements than during concentric exercises (ones where your muscle is working as it is shortening). Muscles face a lot of stress during both types of movements, but fewer muscle fibers get recruited to carry out eccentric contractions versus concentric ones (such as curling a dumbbell or pressing weight overhead), according to a review published in the May 2019 issue of Frontiers in Physiology.
Some Muscle Soreness Is a Good Thing, but It Shouldn’t Last for Too Long
Having torn, inflamed muscles may sound bad — and we certainly want to minimize inflammation in our normal daily lives, as past research has shown chronic inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases — but some degree of inflammation can be an important signal for muscle growth and repair, according to Arent. If you help your muscles recover from the damage, they’ll likely grow back bigger and stronger, “so it’s not so much that we don’t want inflammation to occur, but we want to get it under control as soon as possible,” Arent says.
RELATED: The Best Exercises for Stronger Abs
And you probably want the soreness to go away so you can get back to moving and living pain-free.
RELATED: The Best Exercises for a Stronger Back
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be sore after a workout in order for it to be effective. Soreness means damage, and damage is fine in small doses, but you don’t have to create soreness-inducing damage every time you work out. “That shouldn’t be your goal,” Dr. Schroeder says. “You don’t have to be sore to know you had a good workout.”
Does Warming Up Lessen Post-Workout Muscle Soreness?
You may have heard that stretching before your workout can help prevent injury and soreness. However, stretching your muscles before you exercise is probably not a good idea. “I’m not a fan of stretching before you start training,” Arent says.
A Cochrane review of 12 studies that looked at how stretching before or after a workout affected muscle soreness later on consistently found that stretching did not have an effect on muscle soreness within a week after a workout.
Some evidence suggests a dynamic warmup immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness up to two days later, but the reduction in soreness seen in the research has been very small.
6 Things You Can You Do During and After Your Workout to Ease Muscle Soreness
While there aren’t any instant solutions — your muscles just need time to heal — there are some strategies you can use to ease soreness and aid recovery. Here’s what you should know:
1. During and After Your Workout: Hydrate
It might sound obvious, but staying hydrated is an important aspect of muscle recovery. Water keeps the fluids moving through your system, which can help ease inflammation, flush out waste products, and deliver to your muscles the nutrients they need, Arent says.
The trouble is, it can be tricky to know if and when you’re dehydrated, as chances are you’ll reach dehydration before thirst actually hits, according to Schroeder. The color of your urine provides a good indication: Medium or dark yellow signals dehydration, whereas pale yellow means you’re hydrated.
Just be aware that taking vitamin supplements may cause your urine to look darker than usual. Who will be affected, and by what types of vitamin supplements? That’s hard to say. “Everybody’s different,” Schroeder says.
2. Immediately After Your Workout, Use a Foam Roller (Self-Myofascial Release)
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a technique used to release tension in muscles and connective tissues (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and massage sticks are common SMR tools), helping to move the fluids that accumulate in the muscle after exercise.
A review published in November 2015 in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that foam rolling may help increase range of motion and reduce DOMS. Foam rolling, as well as other types of massage, increase circulation to deliver more nutrients and oxygen to the affected area, which helps reduce swelling and tenderness, Arent explains.
If you’re interested in trying a foam roller, look for a softer version to begin with. Firmer foam rollers will allow you to apply more pressure, but they can be intense if you’re unaccustomed to them. Lacrosse balls can also be handy tools to keep around, as they’re ideal for smoothing out hard-to-reach spots, like the glutes, lats, calves, and illiotibial (IT) band, Arent notes.
3. Eat Within a Half-Hour After an Intense Workout
By feeding your muscles the nutrients they need to repair and grow back stronger, you may be able to speed up the recovery process, Arent says.
He suggests kickstarting your recovery by making sure to get 20 to 40 grams (g) of protein and 20 to 40 g of carbs into your system within 30 minutes of an intense or long workout (one that is 60 minutes or longer). (A serving of Greek yogurt with a handful of berries and a tablespoon of honey is one snack option.)
Protein is important for providing the amino acids needed to rebuild your muscles, while carbohydrates play a starring role in replenishing fuel stores your muscles used up during your workout, according to a position paper on nutrient timing published in 2017 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
But don’t stop at the post-workout snack; you won’t help your muscles recover if you go hungry or skimp on nutritious foods the rest of the day, Arent notes. Prioritize meals and be sure to keep your daily protein intake fairly consistent so your tissues are fed a steady stream of amino acids throughout the day. Recommendations vary, but the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight every day if you’re active, making sure to spread out the doses evenly every three to four hours. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, you’ll need approximately 95 to 136 g of protein every day.
Fruits, vegetables and legumes are also key for giving your body vitamins and minerals — like vitamin C and zinc — that promote healing, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
RELATED: What to Eat Before, During, and After Your Workout
4. Later On: Sleep
Sleep is critical for many reasons, but it’s also one of the most important components of exercise recovery, Arent says. “It may not seem like it has an immediate effect on , but it can be useful for sure,” he adds.
Non–rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, for example, increases protein synthesis (the creation of new proteins), which is needed to repair damaged muscles, according to a review published in October 2014 in Sports Medicine.
S, the post-workout phase is no time to skimp on shut-eye. Aim to score at least seven hours of sleep, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
RELATED: How Much Sleep Do You Really Need Each Night?
5. The Day After a Tough Workout, Do Light Exercise
Sore muscles need to rest, but that doesn’t mean it’s best to kick your feet up and spend the day on the couch. Try to get some gentle movement through activities like restorative yoga; an easy walk, swim, or cycle; or even light resistance training. The key is to avoid doing another intense workout using the same muscle groups on consecutive days. On an effort scale of 0 to 10 (where 10 is maximum intensity), aim for an effort level of 3, Schroeder says. You want to get blood moving to the sore muscles to deliver oxygen and nutrients needed for repair — without causing more damage to the muscle tissues.
6. You May Want to Steer Clear of NSAIDs
Though you might be tempted to pop a painkiller and call it a day, Arent warns that you may sacrifice key parts of the muscle rebuilding process by doing so. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen) may ease pain associated with muscle soreness, but they may also prevent your muscles from growing back bigger and stronger. A small study published in the August 2017 issue of Acta Physiologica found that taking the maximum dosage of over-the-counter ibuprofen stalled progress during an eight-week resistance training program geared toward building muscle and strength in young adults.
What is the best home remedy for sore muscles?
1 – Ice or heat
If your muscles are sore as a result of some strenuous exercise then a hot water bottle, heat pad or even a relaxing bubble bath could help to ease the problem. Heat soothes and relaxes the muscles but it also provides some natural pain relief – perfect!
If you are suffering from the likes of a pulled muscle however, then some ice is the better option. This will help to calm any inflammation, bruising, swelling or redness, plus it acts as a great numbing agent meaning it should ease any pain too.
If you are still unsure whether ice or heat is the better option for you then I’d recommend you read my blog on the topic which will give you some further information.
2 – Rest and elevate
When exercise makes your muscles sore the last thing they need is to be put under more pressure so that gym session or run you had planned is definitely not a good idea at this time! Instead of this kind of vigorous activity don’t be afraid to sit down and put your feet up as this will give your muscles time to recover. Also, keeping the area elevated should help keep inflammation to a minimum.
That being said, I’m not suggesting you should spend the whole day in the same position doing absolutely nothing. Alongside a little bit of rest, walks, a gentle swim or even a bicycle ride may help to ease tension in the muscles without putting them under too much pressure. The key however, is not to do anything too extreme!
3 – Get a massage
Research suggests that a massage could ease muscle pain, particularly if that discomfort is caused by your exercise regime.1 A massage is believed to work by relaxing the muscles however, some researchers would go as far as saying it encourages cell renewal too which will, in turn, speed up recovery.2 So, if you can, it’s worth booking a day out to the spa next time you are suffering from sore muscles!
4 – Try Atrogel
Ok, so this one isn’t technically a home remedy but it’s too good not to mention here! Atrogel is made from freshly harvested, handpicked Arnica Montana flower heads which are full of sesquiterpene lactones. These are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects making the remedy ideal for treating sore muscles, as well as sprains, stiffness, bruises and swelling.
Arnica cannot be used on broken skin but it is not contraindicated with any medicines and is not commonly associated with any side effects. As a result, when it comes to treating muscle pain it is an excellent natural option.
5 – Hydrate
If you are prone to muscle soreness during or after exercise (which is otherwise known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS for short) then it could be to do with the fact you are not drinking enough water. Dehydration can contribute to muscle cramps, plus you are more prone to the problem during exercise because you sweat more.4
So, whether you are off for a jog or are participating in an exercise class, make sure you have a bottle of plain, still water with you – no energy drinks or fruit juice will do!
6 – Get some magnesium!
Magnesium deficiencies are a common occurrence and as this can contribute to muscle spasms and cramps, it’s really important to up your intake if you experience these kinds of symptoms. In the long run these problems can develop into muscle weakness and impaired muscle co-ordination so the earlier you can increase your consumption the better.
It is difficult to store magnesium so we must use our diet to get a regular intake. My top magnesium-rich foods include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs and bananas. This is quite a variety of ingredients so you shouldn’t find it too difficult to come up with a range of snacks and meals that incorporate them. However, if you need a helping hand or are looking for something new to try, I’d recommend you have a look at our recipe hub for some inspiration – anyone for an apple and spinach smoothie?
In order to get more magnesium into your system a supplement is another option, though I’d always suggest you choose these carefully as you don’t want to end up getting too much magnesium.
Our Balance Mineral Drink is a good option as it contains zinc, calcium, potassium and vitamin D alongside a healthy dose of magnesium. Together this helps to support normal muscle function and bone maintenance, plus the fact it is in liquid form means it is easily absorbed by the body too!
7 – Get more sleep
Research has shown that sleep deprivation can enhance pain sensitivity, as well as lowering the pain threshold too.5 When we are tired we often rely on caffeine to see us through our day-to-day activities and whilst this can actually subdue pain for a short while, if you take it too close to bedtime it risks making sleep problems and pain worse.6
If you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep then fortunately help is at hand! Our Sleep Advisor Marianna has written a range of blogs on the topic, some of which I’ve listed below.
- 5 tips to help you get back to sleep
- 7 surprising habits that are ruining your sleep
- Get some sleep!
8 – Try turmeric
There is evidence to suggest that turmeric reduces the pain associated with DOMS as it helps the muscles recover more quickly.7 However, on top of this turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which has anti-inflammatory properties. This is seen to be beneficial in reducing and managing arthritic pain.8
Turmeric is safe in small quantities and is often used for cooking and flavouring food so as long as you don’t mind the taste, there’s little downside to using it.
If you’d really like to reap the benefits of turmeric though, a supplement is a good option. Here I’d turn to our friends over at Jan de Vries who stock BetterYou’s Turmeric Daily Oral Spray. As it’s in liquid form this turmeric is easily absorbed by the body however, the product also has a natural orange flavour so even if you don’t like turmeric, this is still an option for you!
9 – Mindful movement
This one might not be for everyone but if you are open to the idea then it could benefit those aching muscles!
In one study conducted in 2016, people who practiced seated meditation for 20 minutes a day had a smaller reaction to a painful stimulus than those who sat and read a book. The research didn’t include people with chronic pain, but the authors say meditation could have potential as an alternative to painkillers like opioid drugs.9
Meditation helps the brain relax and it is possible to get into a state where some of its regions can be slowed down. This might, in turn, reduce the focus on pain or the attention to small painful stimuli and as a result it might make people feel better.
10 – Avoid inflammatory foods
If you experience muscle pain, I’m sure you are beginning to realise that what you eat (or, indeed, what you don’t eat) could have a big impact on your symptoms.
If you make a habit of avoiding foods that promote inflammation and eat foods that help reduce it, this can be helpful in reducing pain throughout the body.
When it comes to inflammatory foods, processed goods such as ready meals, crisps, sweets and some meats are the biggest culprits so if you can its best to avoid these. On the other hand, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as various nuts and seeds, can help to fight inflammation.
11 – Try a painkiller
There are a range of painkillers that can be bought over the counter to help ease muscle pain. However, if your pain is severe, or you feel you need the painkillers to carry on as normal, then I’d definitely recommend you go to your doctor to discuss the issue further. They will be able to do some initial investigations, and then offer advice on medication or further support if it’s necessary.
12 – Does apple cider vinegar help with sore muscles?
Many runners and fitness enthusiasts proclaim the benefits of apple cider vinegar after a workout but does this really work?
Apple cider vinegar has natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (as well as a host of other benefits!) and so the answer is definitely yes, it could help sore muscles.
Apple cider vinegar is best used before a workout to help prevent the onset of muscle cramps. You can drink it straight from the bottle but if you prefer things a little sweeter just add a touch of honey. Alternatively, stir 1-2 teaspoons into your favourite smoothie recipe for to get a boost of vitamins and minerals at the same time.
Again, we can rely on our friends over at Jan de Vries to provide us with a delicious product here. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar is one of our favourites because it is organic, unfiltered, unheated and unpasteurized meaning it retains all its goodness!
So, if you are suffering from a bout of muscle pain there are a whole variety of home remedies you can try to help ease the problem!
24 Home Remedies for Muscle Pain
It was just a pickup game of basketball with the guys, not a marathon. And it felt great to finally get back on the court. But a day and a half later, you can barely move. You’re so stiff, it feels like you’ve aged 100 years nearly overnight. Every time you try to move, your muscles cry out in pain. What’s going on?
Well, weekend warrior, you’ve overdone it, and your body is letting you know. Overworking muscles, especially muscles that aren’t accustomed to much work in the first place, causes the muscle fibers to actually break down, and that’s what’s causing your pain. If you had been exercising regularly all along, slowly and gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts, chances are that game of round ball wouldn’t have left you feeling like you got hit by a truck.
In addition to the tiny tears that occur in muscle fibers during intense exercise, the muscles swell slightly, and byproducts of muscle breakdown accumulate. Together, they contribute to muscle strain, and the accompanying feeling of stiffness and soreness.
Another common source of muscle pain is a cramp, an acute spasm of the muscle that can send you to the ground clutching the offending muscle and howling in pain. Muscle cramps can be caused by anything that interferes with the mechanisms that cause muscles to contract and relax. The tight contraction of the muscle restricts the blood flow to the area, causing the intense pain of a muscle cramp.
Knowing how muscles contract and relax can help you understand why muscle cramps occur and how to prevent them. To cause a muscle to contract, the brain sends an electrical “contract” message through nerves to the muscle. When this signal reaches the muscle, the minerals sodium and calcium inside the muscle and potassium outside the muscle move, causing the signal to flow along the muscle and making it contract. For muscles to contract and relax properly, they need the right concentrations of these minerals as well as adequate supplies of sugar (glucose), fatty acids (components of fat), and oxygen.
If a muscle uses up its energy supply (called glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose), and if too many waste products have built up in the muscle, it may go into spasm. The spasm, in turn, slows the blood flow, causing pain.
While muscle soreness and cramps aren’t generally life threatening, they can be uncomfortable and annoying and can dim your enthusiasm for physical activity, which in turn can negatively affect your overall health and well-being.
See the next section for some home remedies to ease muscle pain and prevent the problem from recurring.
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Maybe you overdid it at the gym or maybe you just slept in a strange position, but we’ve all experienced sore muscles every now and then. Fortunately, Herbal Remedies for Muscle Pain has the information to get you back in the game.
- If you suffer from neck pain, read Home Remedies for Neck Pain for helpful tips.
- Home Remedies for Back Pain gives advice for treating a sore back at home.
- For information on coping with restless legs syndrome, read Home Remedies for Restless Legs Syndrome.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
Muscle Pain: Possible Causes
What are causes, symptoms, and treatments of muscle pain?
Causes of muscle pain fall into a few general groups, as follows: injury or overuse; stress; autoimmune disease; neurological and muscle disorders; infection; obstructed blood flow, or drug side effects.
Symptoms of muscle injury include pain, weakness, bruising, swelling, and cramping (involuntary muscle spasms and contractions).
Injury can result from:
- Blunt force trauma caused by a strong impact to the body.
- Muscle strains, soreness, pulls or tears are anything from a simple overstretching of a muscle all the way to a complete tear. Accidents, falls, sudden twisting motions, and athletic activities are frequent causes.
- Repetitive motion injury as seen in occupations or activities that use the same movements day after day. Occupational examples could include data entry typists all the way to heavy manual laborers. Following the same exercise routine or focusing exclusively on one sport might also be a cause.
- Overuse injury, often seen in athletes competing in sports such as hockey, football, boxing, wrestling, soccer, and track and field. The muscle fibers can be predisposed and are prone to injury when the same activity is performed, over and over, without any variation. Muscle are dynamic and need to move in many directions to remain functional. Exercises should be performed as such, to avoid exposing the muscle fibers to the same repetitive force.
- Improper warm up and cool down is one of the most common causes of muscle strains in an athletic individual. The fibers in muscles are able to do their job based on their ability to lengthen and contract; the better their motion, the less chance of injury. Spending 5 minutes before and after exercise to focus on stretching muscles and performing low intensity activities (like a very light jog, or 25% of the weight you were just lifting) can help to prevent muscle strains from occurring.
- Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) is a chronic (long-term) condition characterized by inflammation and pain in the body’s fascia, the connective tissue that covers the muscles. MPS can affect one muscle or an entire group. Causes include injury or excessive strain on a particular muscle group, ligament or tendon; injured vertebrae; repetitive motion, or lack of activity (such as when a limb is placed in a cast). Treatments include physical therapy, massage, and injections of pain relievers and steroids.
- Poor posture can cause muscle pain and tension, as unnatural body positions place strain on muscles and soft tissues. Poor posture includes slouching in a chair; extreme curvature in the lower back caused by wearing high heels or by excess weight around the midsection; leaning on one leg; hunching the back; thrusting out the chin; rounding the shoulders, and cradling a telephone between the neck and shoulder. Besides being aware to keep the body in line, specific exercises are available to assist in correcting poor posture habits.
- Poor form while exercising can predispose to significant muscle injury, especially when a large force, such as weight lifting, explosive activities, or prolonged endurance of an activity is placed on top of poor form.
- Compartment syndrome: Compartments are groups of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in the arms and legs, covered by a tough fascia. Compartment syndrome occurs when an injury causes swelling and bleeding within a compartment, increasing pressure on surrounding blood vessels, nerves and muscle to the point of choking off adequate nourishment and oxygen. The front part of the lower leg is most frequently affected but the arms, hands, feet, and buttocks may be as well.
- Acute: Occurs after a severe accident or broken bone and should be treated as a medical emergency. Surgery is often needed to relieve the pressure within the compartment.
- Chronic (exertional): Exercise, particularly repetitive motion activity such as running, biking, or swimming, leads to pain or cramping. Discontinuation of the activity and cross-training will usually bring relief.
Stress and tension
Psychological or physical stress can lead to muscle tension, the body’s automatic reflex to guard against injury and pain.
Sudden stress may cause muscles to tense up but once the stress passes, the tension is released. In chronic (long-lasting) stress, muscles may remain in a near constant state of tension, leading to pain and headaches if tension is felt in the shoulders and neck. If a person reacts to stress by reducing physical activity, muscles may begin to shrink (atrophy) due to lack of exercise, thereby making it even more difficult to escape the cycle of pain.
Learning psychological coping mechanisms and taking part in adequate physical exercise can improve how one deals with stress or chronic pain, and in turn reduce the negative effects of stress on the muscular system.
- Respiratory and viral infections, such as colds and influenza (flu): Muscle pain is one of many symptoms of these infections, which also includes fever, chills, sore throat, headache, cough, stuffy or runny nose, and general fatigue.
- Malaria: A potentially serious to fatal disease caused by the transmission of parasites from the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. Overall body aches and weakness are accompanied by fever, sweats, chills, headaches, nausea, abnormal blood metabolism, and an enlarged spleen and liver.
- Trichinosis: Caused by infection with the larvae of a species of worm called Trichinella, found in the meat of wild animals or undercooked meat such as pork. Initial symptoms include upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and fever. Later symptoms include joint and muscle pain, headache, fever, chills, swelling of the face, and possibly heart and breathing problems.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: A potentially life-threatening disease caused by a tick bite. Rash is a common sign, usually developing 2 to 4 days after a fever develops. Other symptoms include muscle pain, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, and lack of appetite.
- Lyme Disease: Caused by the bite of a tick found primarily in Northeastern U.S. states. Early signs and symptoms (3 to 30 days after being bitten) include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. A rash occurs in about 70% to 80% of infected people.
Treatments for each of these conditions will vary depending on the disease, its stage of development, and its severity.
An autoimmune disease is one in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attack its own tissues.
- Myositis: A rare condition in which the immune system chronically inflames the body’s musculature. Over time, the inflammation results in weakened muscles, aches, pain and fatigue. There are different forms of the disease: Polymyositis (affecting many parts of the body, particularly those closest to the trunk); dermatomyositis (damages both muscle and skin); inclusion-body myositis (gradual weakening of the muscles, typically after age 50), and juvenile myositis (affecting children). There is no known trigger for these attacks and no permanent cure, although some treatments can prevent the condition from getting worse.
- Lupus: An autoimmune condition of unknown origin that causes raised, scaly rashes on the face and other parts of the body, and may also inflame or damage connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin. Muscle pain and tenderness occur in up to half of people with lupus. The inflammatory nature of lupus is the cause of these aches and pains. Anti-inflammatory medications can thus help control some of the damaging effects of lupus.
Other diseases or conditions
- Fibromyalgia: A common neurological (nervous system) condition of unclear origin that causes widespread pain, sensitivity to touch, severe fatigue, and sleep problems. Pain and tender areas may jump from one area of the body to another. Women are more often affected than men, as are people with rheumatic disease (health problems that affect joints, muscles and bones). No cure is available but certain medications can help.
- Hypothyroidism: Also known as underactive thyroid, this condition results in too little thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Since thyroid hormone controls the body’s use of energy, nearly every organ system is affected and overall body functions slow down. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, feeling cold, joint and muscle pain, dry hair and skin, depression, fertility problems, and slowed heart rate.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome: A disorder of extreme fatigue and poor tolerance for physical exertion that has lasted six months or longer and cannot be explained by any other medical condition. Symptoms include sleep problems, taking a long time to recover from even mild physical activity, loss of memory and mental acuity, pain in muscles and joints, and headaches. Psychological counseling and closely monitored exercise are the best treatment options.
- Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes are minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium that are necessary for proper cell function, including normal muscle contraction. A shortage or imbalance of electrolytes due to strenuous physical activity or poor diet can slow muscle contractions and cause cramping and weakness.
- Side effect of statin drugs: Statin drugs are used to control cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, some people have reported muscle pain and general flu-like aches when taking statin drugs. A change in dosage or a switch to another cholesterol-lowering drug can be managed by the patient’s physician if there are statin side effects.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD): Fatty blockages (atherosclerosis) in the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the legs can lead to pain in the legs from exertion such as walking. These symptoms of pain, ache or cramps from walking can occur in the buttocks, hips, thighs or calves. Other symptoms of PAD include muscle atrophy, skin that is cool to the touch, decreased or no pulse in the feet, non-healing sores in the legs or feet, and cold or numb toes.
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Medicines for back pain
Acute back pain often goes away on its own over several weeks. In some people, back pain persists. It may not go away completely or it may get more painful at times.
Medicines can also help with your back pain.
OVER-THE-COUNTER PAIN RELIEVERS
Over-the-counter means you can buy them without a prescription.
Most health care providers recommend acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) first because it has fewer side effects than other drugs. Do not take more than 3 grams (3,000 mg) on any one day, or over 24 hours. Overdosing on acetaminophen can cause severe damage to your liver. If you already have liver disease, ask your doctor if acetaminophen is OK for you to take.
If your pain continues, your provider may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). You can buy some NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, without a prescription. NSAIDs help reduce the swelling around the swollen disk or arthritis in the back.
NSAIDs and acetaminophen in high doses, or if taken for a long time, can cause serious side effects. Side effects include stomach pain, ulcers or bleeding, and kidney or liver damage. If side effects occur, stop taking the drug right away and tell your provider.
If you are taking pain relievers for more than a week, tell your provider. You may need to be watched for side effects.
NARCOTIC PAIN RELIEVERS
Narcotics, also called opioid pain relievers, are used only for pain that is severe and is not helped by other types of painkillers. They work well for short-term relief. Do not use them for more than 3 to 4 weeks unless instructed by your provider to do so.
Narcotics work by binding to receptors in the brain, which blocks the feeling of pain. These drugs can be abused and are habit-forming. They have been associated with accidental overdose and death. When used carefully and under a provider’s direct care, they can be effective in reducing pain.
Examples of narcotics include:
- Fentanyl — available as a patch
Possible side effects of these drugs include:
- Impaired judgment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slowed breathing
When taking narcotics, do not drink alcohol, drive, or operate heavy machinery.
Your provider may prescribe a medicine called a muscle relaxant. Despite its name, it does not work directly on muscles. Instead, it works through your brain and spinal cord.
This drug is often given along with over-the-counter pain relievers to relieve the symptoms of back pain or muscle spasm.
Examples of muscle relaxants include:
Side effects of muscle relaxants are common and include drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.
These medicines can be habit-forming. Talk to your provider before using these drugs. They may interact with other medicines or make certain medical conditions worse.
Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking muscle relaxants. Do not drink alcohol while taking these drugs.
Antidepressants are normally used to treat people with depression. But, low doses of these medicines can help with chronic low back pain, even if the person does not feel sad or depressed.
These drugs work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in your brain. This changes the way your brain notices pain. Antidepressants most commonly used for chronic low back pain also help you sleep.
Antidepressants most often used for back pain are:
Common side effects include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, weight gain, sleepiness, problems urinating, and sexual problems. Less commonly, some of these drugs can also cause heart and lung problems.
Do not take these drugs unless you are under the care of a provider. Do not stop taking these drugs suddenly or change the dose without also talking with your provider.
ANTI-SEIZURE OR ANTICONVULSANT MEDICINES
Anticonvulsant medicines are used to treat people with seizures or epilepsy. They work by causing changes in the electric signals in the brain. They work best for pain that is caused by nerve damage.
These drugs may help some people whose long-term back pain has made it hard for them to work, or pain that interferes with their daily activities. They can also help relieve radiating pain that is common with back problems.
Anticonvulsants most often used to treat chronic pain are:
- Valproic acid
Common side effects include weight gain or weight loss, upset stomach, loss of appetite, skin rashes, drowsiness or feeling confused, depression, and headaches.
Do not take these drugs unless you are under a provider’s care. Do not stop taking these drugs suddenly or change the dose without also talking with your provider.
‘Good Pain’ Versus ‘Bad Pain’ for Athletes
By: Edward G. McFarland, M.D. and Andrew Cosgarea, M.D.
What is the difference between good pain and bad pain?
It is well known among athletes that some discomfort is part of athletic activities and is often part of a successful training program. For muscle strength to increase, the muscle must see some increase in stress over what it is used to experiencing, and this stress is usually perceived as the “burn” in muscle during activity. This mild burn is what we call good pain and is the basis of the popular phrase, “No pain, no gain.” This pain should be short-lived and resolve soon after the activity ends.
Fatigue after a good, strenuous workout is also a sign that the exercise is pushing the limits of the athlete’s physiology, but it too should not be excessive. This fatigue should leave the individual somewhat exhilarated but not overly exhausted. Fatigue that lasts days means the individual’s physiology has been excessively challenged, and this means that the muscles and the energy stores are not being effectively replenished. Chronic fatigue after excessive exercise suggests that the individual may be overtraining. If after appropriate rest the fatigue continues, it may be a sign of other medical problems and you should consult a doctor.
What are the signs of bad pain?
The muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones of the body are living structures that react to the stress of exercise only gradually. If they see stress too fast, they cannot respond effectively and may begin to fail. The causes of the failure can be too much stress too fast, or it can be the accumulation of excessive stress over time. When this occurs, each one of these tissues responds a little differently. This can result in bad pain.
For example, when muscles that have not been exercised for long periods of time see a lot of stress, they respond by getting sore. Muscle soreness typically occurs if you do a new exercise to which you are not accustomed or if you do a familiar exercise too hard. This soreness typically begins within a few hours but peaks one to two days after exercise. This soreness is called delayed onset muscle soreness and may represent actual muscle damage. A little soreness or discomfort means that the muscle has been stressed, but if the muscle is exercised too much, the muscle can become very sore to move and touch and may even swell. In severe cases, the muscle may be damaged to the point that the muscle starts to develop permanent damage. In extreme cases, individuals who are not adequately conditioned who exercise excessively can develop a condition where the muscle is permanently damaged and proteins are released into the blood stream, which can shut down the kidneys. While it is rare, there have been cases of death due to this extreme overexercising of the muscles, so it is generally recommended that if you start an exercise program, you begin very slowly and build up gradually. To prevent this problem with your muscles, we usually recommend the following rule: Take the amount of exercise you think you can do and cut it by one third the first few times you do it.
In a similar fashion, the tendons that connect muscle to bones may get irritated if they see too much stress too rapidly. They respond by getting inflamed, which is characterized by pain and sometimes swelling. Tendinitis pain typically occurs during exercise and can continue afterward when performing activities using that muscle or tendon. For example, tendinitis of the kneecap tendon (patellar tendon) is frequently seen in athletes who do jumping or squatting activities. The pain is made worse with these activities, but the pain may continue after sports activity when climbing stairs or getting out of a chair. In more severe cases the tendon may become swollen and any movement of the tendon or knee joint can hurt.
The bones likewise need time to respond to new stress. When bones see increased amount of stress, such as an increase in running when preparing for a marathon, they respond by putting more bone in the areas of the bone that are seeing more stress. This response is called remodeling and strengthens the bone. However, if the area of bone sees stress too fast, the bone will actually begin to fail. The first sign of this stress reaction is pain along the bone, which occurs with activity. As the situation worsens, a stress fracture can develop. This may result in a limp and even pain at night. If untreated the bone can actually break, which can be a severe injury.
Cartilage also needs stress applied very gradually. Cartilage is the slippery white tissue on the ends of the bones in the joint that allows the bones to glide and move smoothly over one another. As a person matures, it is common for the cartilage to see some wear and tear so that it is not perfectly smooth. When the cartilage sees too much stress too rapidly, it can result in pain and fluid in the joint. Swelling in a joint is a worrisome sign meaning that the cartilage is irritated. If the joint is not rested, the pain and swelling can increase and result in functional problems.
How can this pain be treated?
The treatment for any ache or pain after exercise is to cut back on the exercise for a period of time. How long to rest the area depends upon the severity of the pain. Typically we tell patients not to do anything that hurts. For casual athletes this is easier to do than for highly competitive athletes. It is important to maintain aerobic capacity or stamina when resting a body part, so other exercises that do not cause pain are usually acceptable. For example, if your knee hurts, it is usually reasonable to continue exercising your upper extremities or even to do lower extremity exercises like swimming or aqua jogging that do not aggravate the problem.
The second way to treat a painful area is by icing. Ice should be used after activity with an ice pack or ice massage for 20 minutes. This also can be done daily after exercising for several weeks. The old standard of ice for 48 hours followed by heat is no longer recommended. We believe that ice is your friend. However, if pain persists despite the use of ice, more serious problems may exist and you should consult your physician.
The third thing to do if you have aches and pains after exercise is to continue to move the joint or extremity to avoid stiffness. If the joint becomes stiff over time it will affect the ability of the joint to function normally and may affect athletic performance as well. Range of motion exercises or stretching to maintain the motion of the joint should not be confused with exercising the joint, which tends to stress the structures and make the pain worse.
The fourth way to treat aches and pains is with over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory agents. These medicines include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin and are believed to be effective at decreasing pain and swelling. If you do not have any contraindications to taking these medications, we suggest following the instructions on the label. If you have any questions, speak with your trainer, pharmacist or physician. If these medicines do not substantially improve the pain over a few days then you should consider consulting a health care professional.
In summary, if you develop pain after exercise, you should rest or decrease the activity that is causing the problem, ice the painful area, keep moving the extremity but not stress it and consider over-the-counter medicines to treat the pain and inflammation.
When should I be concerned about bad pain?
There are several things you should look for when judging how concerned to be about your pain. First, the pain should not last long after exercise. Pain that begins to affect your sports performance is not normal, and this may be more of a problem early in an injury for a high-caliber, competitive athlete than for the casual athlete who can more easily rest the injured part. Pain that does not go away with rest is not normal. Pain that begins to affect your function outside of sports, such as walking or sleeping, is not normal. Pain that is constant or increasing over time and does not go away is not normal. Pain that does not improve with treatment may be something to be concerned about. Pain that requires increasing amounts of pain medication over time is not normal, and you should consider seeing a physician. Pain that begins to wake you from your sleep is also a concern, especially if it increases over time.
Another sign that may indicate a more serious problem is the development of weakness. The development of tingling or numbness, which is the feeling you get when your hand goes to sleep or when you hit your funny bone, is also not normal and may indicate nerve problems. If you notice that you are gradually losing motion of the extremity you should also seek treatment.
Fevers, chills or severe sweating at night are not normal and you should consider seeking evaluation right away.
What about the pain that occurs with an injury?
It is often difficult to know if an injury due to an accident or trauma is serious or not. Signs that the injury is more serious include severe pain that makes the individual nauseated or very uncomfortable, deformity at the site of injury, immediate and marked swelling at the location of the injury, loss of function of the part that is injured, tingling or numbness of the extremity and inability to move the fingers or toes of the involved extremity.
We tell athletes that pain always occurs for a reason. More severe injuries have more swelling and pain. Injured areas that turn black and blue over time indicate that blood vessels have been broken and that there is the possibility of an injury to the bones, ligaments, tendons or cartilage. In most cases where a joint becomes swollen, painful and incapable of movement after an injury, it is not possible to tell if there is a fracture without an X-ray.
If you have any question about whether an injury is serious or not, you should seek treatment. Sometimes this is done sooner rather than later in athletic individuals who have a more pressing need to know the severity of the injury, thereby allowing quicker return to sport.
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For muscle pain from overuse or injury, rest the affected body part and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Apply ice for the first 24 to 72 hours after 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 help you 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 medicine or physical therapy. You may need to be seen at a specialized pain clinic.
If your muscle aches are due to a specific disease, do the things your provider has told you to treat the underlying condition.
These steps may help lower the risk for getting muscle aches:
- Stretch before and after exercising.
- Warm up before exercising and cool down afterward.
- Drink lots of fluids before, during, and after exercise.
- If you work in the same position most of the day (such as sitting at a computer), stretch at least every hour.