Myalgia is a broad medical term that covers many different types of aches and pains. Chances are, you’ve suffered from some kind of myalgia in your life and you just didn’t know it. However, there are more serious forms of it as well, and today we’re going to cover everything from minor aches and pains to life-threatening diseases. Buckle up, because this is going to be a crash course on everything myalgia.
What is Myalgia?
Myalgia describes many kinds of muscle pains that can occur in any part of the body. It may involve tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles, and fascia, which are the soft tissues connecting internal organs. It can be caused by trauma, overuse, injuries, or over tension of certain muscles. Certain types of medications, illnesses, autoimmune disorders, or metabolic defects can also cause it.
The pain ranges from achy, dull, and deep to sharp, random and quick. It may include a localized pain affecting one specific muscle group, or it can be diffused, which means it affects multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Depending on the severity of the injury or illness, myalgia can be acute (short term) or chronic (long lasting). Now let’s breakdown some of the most common causes of myalgia.
A strain affects both muscles and tendons and it is usually accompanied by some level of pain, muscle weakness, inflammation, and bruising. Strains mostly occur from physical activity that results from awkward body movements. These often happen while playing sports, over-stretching, or when lifting heavy objects. When a strain occurs, the muscle(s) become stressed due to the exertion beyond their normal range. That results in a partial or complete tear of the muscle or tendon. In more serious cases, the tendon can be completely ruptured. The most common locations of strains occur in the back, leg, and foot.
Strains can either be felt for a short period of time (acute), but could also last for longer periods of time (chronic). An acute strain is generally linked to a recent injury, while chronic strains are usually from a movement that is repeated over and over again, over an extended period of time. If you’re feeling the symptoms above, your doctor will help diagnose what kind of strain you have.
Overusing a muscle or group of muscles, especially over a long period of time in a stationary position, can result in myalgia. It may start out as a mild pain, but over time and with continued overuse, the pain can become more pronounced and uncomfortable.
In today’s world, some examples of overusing muscles and tendons are related to desk work. Using a keyboard and mouse all day often results in repetitive movements in a fixed position, which can affect the shoulders, neck, back, arms, and hands. Besides office workers, other occupations that require repetitive motions include physical labor careers or assembly line workers. These types of jobs may also result in myalgia in the muscles and tendons.
Sprains are a more serious type of injury than a strain, and they usually damage one or more ligaments in a joint. They are often caused by an injury that results from a joint being taken beyond its normal range of motion. The wrists and ankles are the most common areas where sprains occur, but really they can happen in any joint. When they happen in the ankle, it is usually due to the rolling or turning of the foot.
Although they are most likely to occur when doing activities that require side-to-side motion, like basketball or tennis, they can sometimes happen while doing everyday activities like stepping off a curb or jumping from a low height. Depending on the level of the injury, recovery may take anywhere from a few days for a minor sprain to weeks and months if any surgery is required to fix a ruptured ligament.
When muscles are frequently contracted for a period of time, they can become tense and sore, leading to myalgia. The most common cause of chronic tension happens in people who sit at a desk working on a computer. Stress is also a leading cause of chronic tension as muscles tense up and contract over the course of the day or even in your sleep. As a result, the most common areas of chronic tension happen in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Besides these common causes from physical stress, myalgia can also occur as a result of certain infections or illnesses. We’ve listed a few of the most common and more minor ones below, as well as three of the more serious chronic ailments associated with myalgia: fibromyalgia, lupus, and diabetes.
If you’ve ever had the flu, then you know one of the highlights is the muscle aches it can cause. The aches and pains associated with the flu are felt throughout the body, but they seem to be felt most in the legs and the back and may keep someone in bed for several days.
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by deer ticks. It is acquired when a tick carrying the Borrelia bacteria bites a person, sometimes unknowingly. Symptoms usually take up to a week to be felt and the first tell tale sign of being bit, is a round, red, “bulls eye” shaped rash. Other early onset symptoms may include headaches, fever and fatigue. If not treated quickly, more severe symptoms can occur, such as paralysis of one or both sides of the face, heart palpitations, and joint pain. Recurring bouts of swelling and joint pain can occur for several months and even years after contraction.
Fibromyalgia is a serious and chronic condition that involves widespread pain throughout the body. The main signs and symptoms of fibromyalgia include fatigue, interrupted sleep patterns, headaches, areas of tenderness, cognitive dysfunction, and most notably widespread pain felt throughout the body. In addition, other symptoms include muscle spasms, nerve pain, limb weakness, tingling of the skin, and muscle twitching.
Chronic, widespread pain is the leading indicator of fibromyalgia, but the pain felt can also happen in localized areas of the body, some of which include the chest, hips, neck, shoulders, legs, and lower back. The pain experienced by sufferers can range from a dull ache to severe discomfort that makes coping with day-to-day activities extremely difficult.
Sufferers of fibromyalgia also experience cognitive dysfunction, or “fibro fog” as it is sometimes called. It can cause issues with short and long term memory, concentration, reduced attention span, and an inability to multi-task. Depression and anxiety have also been linked to fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia affects both men and women. However, women may have greater widespread pain, morning fatigue, and IBS symptoms than men do. Having painful periods is also a common occurrence.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown. There is a theory that it is caused by people who have a lowered threshold for pain due in part to an increased sensation in the pain-sensitive nerve cells in the brain or spinal cord. The indication is that the pathways responsible for pain processing do not work normally, which is the primary reason for the severity of the pain felt. It is also believed that the neurochemical irregularities that cause fibromyalgia can also cause the related issues with sleep, fatigue, and mood. In more recent studies, there have been other factors that are believed to contribute to the onset of fibromyalgia, some of which include infections, trauma, and stress. There is also research indicating that fibromyalgia is hereditary.
Risk factors for flare-ups of fibromyalgia include injury, illness, or stress. Some factors that increase the likelihood of developing fibromyalgia are family history, age, gender, and unrelated disease. Currently, there is no one specific test that can completely diagnose fibromyalgia. Therefore, diagnosis is based on a criterion that involves a history of chronic, widespread pain that affects all four quadrants of the body (upper and lower body and on both sides). It’s also important to rule out other disorders that might be causing the pain associated with fibromyalgia, so there may be many tests associated with a diagnosis.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia at this time. However, the focus of fibromyalgia treatment is on trying to reduce the symptoms and on improving quality of life for those who have it. Medications can help with the pain and to help you sleep better, and are usually prescribed in conjunction with some form of therapy. Whether it takes the form of physical and occupational, therapy may help to strengthen the body and mind and lower the stress on your body. To help a person feel better, stress reduction techniques and exercise can also be very beneficial. Pain relievers, such as Advil and Tylenol are among the most common medications given to people who have fibromyalgia. Antidepressants are often prescribed as well to promote better sleep and balance out neurotransmitters.
Many people who don’t want to take prescription medications are turning to alternative remedies. Some of those include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and tai chi. Others take CBD for fibromyalgia.
According to some sufferers, eating a healthy diet and avoiding certain foods that are known to cause inflammation may also help with the symptoms of fibromyalgia. A common dietary plan of action for those affected may include:
- Eating low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
- Eating more of a plant-based diet rather than a meat-based diet.
- Drinking lots of water.
- Reducing sugar intake.
- Regular, but not strenuous exercise.
Some people also suggest avoiding MSG or gluten as they may make symptoms worse. Many patients use a food journal to help keep track of what they eat and any symptoms felt afterwards. This may help pinpoint any food triggers that may make symptoms worse.
There’s no two ways about it: fibromyalgia will somehow affect your quality of life, especially if you are living day to day with chronic pain and fatigue. Having a healthcare provider who listens and understands what you are going through, in addition to having a good support system (family and friends) can help cope with fibromyalgia and may help you feel better.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that includes many symptoms of myalgia, especially in the chest and joints. It is described as a disease that attacks healthy tissues due to the immune system becoming overly active. This leads to health issues that involve the kidneys, heart, lungs, joints, and blood cells. Although the signs and symptoms can vary for each person, some of the most common are joint pain and swelling. Other symptoms may include fatigue, fever with no visible cause, sensitivity to light, and chest pain.
It can develop at any age; however, it usually develops from the ages of 15 to 44. Medications to treat lupus are called immunosuppressive drugs. In addition to these medications, patients may also seek cognitive behavioral therapy to help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety that is typically associated with the disease. Some patients also take CBD for lupus.
Diabetes is considered a metabolic disorder that is symptomatic of high blood sugar over an extended period of time. Myalgia associated with diabetes comes in the form of diabetic neuropathy. It is usually the result of damage done to the nerves and is one of the more common complications of diabetes. Along with pain, other symptoms include altered pain sensation, tingling, and numbness.
Diabetes is usually caused by one of two things:
1) The pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin in the body, or;
2) The insulin that is being produced is not responding properly in the cells of the body.
There are three categories of diabetes: Type 1, commonly referred to as juvenile diabetes, Type 2, which usually develops in adults who are overweight; and Gestational diabetes, which happens during pregnancy.
Type 1 diabetes is the type in which no insulin, or very little, is naturally produced in the pancreas. Therefore, those who have Type 1 must rely on insulin for a lifetime.
Type 2 is described as insulin resistant, and it is caused by a lack of insulin and high blood sugar. It is common in adults who are overweight or obese and who do not exercise. Type 2 diabetes is mainly treated with medications that may or may not contain insulin.
Gestational diabetes happens in women who are pregnant. Sugar levels in the blood become elevated during pregnancy, with few symptoms present. Treating this type during pregnancy usually involves recommending a diabetic diet, exercise, and if severe, insulin injections.
The Bottom Line on Myalgia
Myalgia can take the form of many different kinds of health issues, and it is a common and broad term used to describe the effects of many of the diseases we’ve covered here. There are, however, countless other causes and ailments that include myalgia symptoms.
Most of the time, issues caused by myalgia can be treated with rest, time, and over the counter medications. Only in rare cases does myalgia evolve into something more serious, but make sure that you are living the healthiest and most active lifestyle possible to do your best to avoid this common issue.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.