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What Are Muscle Pain?
Muscle aches are also known as muscle pain, myalgia, or simply pain in the muscles. Muscle aches are extremely common. Almost everybody has likely experienced discomfort in his or her muscles at some point.
Because almost every part of the body has muscle tissue, this type of pain can be felt practically anywhere. According to the Mayo Clinic, it usually affects a small number of muscles at a time, although myalgia throughout the body is possible.
Causes of Muscle Pain
The most common causes of muscle aches and pains are:
- Injury or trauma, including sprains and strains
- Overuse: using a muscle too much, too soon before warming up, or too often
- Tension or stress
Muscle pain may also be due to:
- Certain drugs, including ACE inhibitors for lowering blood pressure, cocaine, and statins for lowering cholesterol
- Electrolyte imbalance, such as too little potassium or calcium
- Infections, including the flu, Lyme disease, malaria, muscle abscess, polio, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, trichinosis (roundworm)
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
How Do I Prevent Sore Muscles Pain?
Experts used to recommend stretching before a workout to prevent sore muscles. But research shows that stretching ahead of time doesn’t do much to prevent soreness or injury. Frese says it’s better to get in a good warm-up before you exercise. Stretch later, when your muscles are already warm.
A couple of natural substances are touted for preventing sore muscles, including antioxidants like vitamin C. But check with your doctor before taking high doses of any vitamin. Serious exercisers might find relief from post-workout soreness by taking in some protein. A study of marines found that protein supplements helped sore muscles after intense exercise.
To lower your risk of developing muscle pain in the future:
- Stretch your muscles before engaging in physical activity and after workouts.
- Incorporate a warm-up and a cool-down into all of your exercise sessions.
- Stay hydrated, especially on the days when you are active.
- Engage in regular exercise to help promote optimal muscle tone.
- Get up and stretch regularly if you work at a desk or in an environment that puts you at risk for muscle strain or tension.
According to the NIH, people who work at a desk should make an effort to get up and stretch at least every 60 minutes.
Home Care Treatment for Muscle Pain
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, or refer you to a specialized pain clinic.
If your muscle aches are due to a specific disease, follow the instructions of your provider to treat the primary illness.
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.