Almost everyone has sore, aching muscles now and then. Muscle pain can involve a small area or your whole body, ranging from mild to excruciating.
Although most muscle aches and pains go away on their own within a short time, sometimes muscle pain can linger for months. Muscle pain can develop almost anywhere in your body, including your neck, back, legs and even your hands.
The most common causes of muscle pain are tension, stress, overuse and minor injuries. This type of pain is usually localized, affecting just a few muscles or a small part of your body.
Systemic muscle pain — pain throughout your whole body — is more often the result of an infection, an illness or a side effect of a medication.
Common causes of muscle pain include:
- Chronic exertional compartment syndrome
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Influenza (flu) and other viral illness (influenza-like illness)
- Lyme disease
- Medications, especially the cholesterol medications known as statins
- Muscle cramp
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Polymyositis (inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness)
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory joint disease)
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
When to see a doctor
Muscle pain from minor injuries, stress or exercise is usually helped with simple home treatment. Muscle pain from severe injuries or systemic disease is often serious and requires medical care.
Get immediate medical care if you have muscle pain with:
- Trouble breathing or dizziness
- Extreme muscle weakness
- A high fever and stiff neck
Schedule an office visit if you have:
- A known tick bite or could have had a tick bite
- A rash, especially the "bulls-eye" rash of Lyme disease
- Muscle pain, especially in your calves, that occurs with exercise and resolves with rest
- Signs of infection, such as redness and swelling, around a sore muscle
- Muscle pain after you start taking or increase the dosage of a medication — (particularly statins — medications used to control cholesterol
- Muscle pain that doesn't improve with self-care
Muscle pain that occurs during an activity usually signals a "pulled" or strained muscle. These types of injuries usually respond well to R.I.C.E. therapy:
- Rest. Take a break from your normal activities.
- Ice. Place an ice pack or bag of frozen peas on the sore area for 20 minutes several times a day.
- Compression. Use a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
- Elevation. Elevate your foot to help reduce swelling.