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Muscle pain: types, causes, and treatment

Updated: December 2018

Muscle pain is difficult to avoid, given the fact that the human body has over 600 muscles. While pain felt in the muscles, also known as myalgia, is usually temporary and caused by overusing the muscles, it could also indicate a more complex problem, particularly when it is unrelated to physical exertion.

Types of muscle pain

Muscle pain can be divided into two categories: pain that is related to muscle activity, and pain that is not.

Pain related to muscle activity

When pain is related to muscle activity, it can come on during the physical exercise itself or shortly afterwards (generally within 24 to 48 hours), as is generally the case with muscle soreness and stiffness, cramps and strains.

Pain unrelated to muscle activity

Sometimes, muscle pain can occur separately from any kind of physical activity. This could be caused by a virus or other condition that means you need to visit the doctor.

Symptoms of muscle pain

Muscle pain mostly affects the muscles in the arms, legs, back, shoulders, abdomen and hips, but any muscle in the body can be affected. This pain can be accompanied by various symptoms:

  • Shooting pains
  • Numbness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Pins and needles
  • A burning sensation
  • Stabbing pains
  • Difficulty or discomfort when performing certain movements
  • Swelling

Causes of muscle pain

Most of the time, muscle pain is the result of an injury or over-exertion of the muscle during physical activity. Athletes are also more likely to experience muscle pain than other people. Examples include cramping (a short and intense contraction of the muscles), soreness and stiffness (a natural result of muscle inflammation), spasms (a more severe kind of muscle stiffness), muscle tears (partial breakage of a muscle and its surrounding envelope), pulled or strained muscles (large tears), and full-thickness muscle tears (the most severe kind of muscle tear).

Pulling or straining a muscle after moving awkwardly (as with torticollis (wry neck) or lumbago), a knock or impact, or side effects from medication might also explain muscle pain. Similarly, stress can trigger muscle pain as it often takes the form of tension in the muscles.

Finally, muscle pain can also be linked to a virus such as the flu (which mainly causes soreness and stiffness) or to rarer conditions such as polyneuropathy, polio, or tetanus.

In all cases, if the pain persists for several days, disrupts sleep, is accompanied by fever or tremors, and makes it difficult to move around, it is important to consult a doctor.

Treating and relieving muscle pain

While soreness, stiffness and cramps are most often benign, there are certain types of muscle pain that can indicate a more serious problem and therefore require a medical consultation in order to determine the cause of the pain and the appropriate treatment.

For muscle soreness and stiffness, rest (a painful muscle should not be used), stretching or massaging the painful muscle, applying heat and taking painkillers are usually sufficient for relieving the pain.

If the pain is due to an injury, we recommend applying a cold pack (ice), then resting, elevating and compressing the affected muscle with a bandage. If the pain persists, painkillers and muscle relaxants may be prescribed.

Drug-free, clinically validated pain reliever: TENS technology

There are also other solutions that help reduce muscle pain, drug-free. OMRON’s range of pain relievers help you to relieve your muscle and joint pain using Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). The OMRON HeatTens even f heat and TENS treatment in one single unit.

See all TENS machines


References:

Cardenas, J. (2015). All treatments of muscle pain. Retrieved from www.doctissimo.fr/html/dossiers/douleur-musculaire/articles/11771-traitements-douleur-musculaire.htm

PasseportSanté (2015). Muscle injuries (sports). Retrieved from www.passeportsante.net/fr/Maux/Problemes/Fiche.aspx?doc=blessures_musculaires_pm

PasseportSanté. Muscle injury: what to do? Retrieved from www.passeportsante.net/fr/Actualites/Dossiers/DossierComplexe.aspx?doc=blessure-muscle-solutions