You may not recognize the medical term for it, but you will probably recognize the symptoms of myalgia. Myalgia is another word for muscle pain. You have undoubtedly experienced myalgia many times in your life, but you may not have a deep insight into what causes it. Whether it results from overexertion, stress or illness, there are now more advanced pain relief treatments that can help that soreness disappear.
Myalgia is quite common, although it is often associated with more serious health conditions. From 60 to 85 percent of the population will experience muscle pain in the back at some time, while almost 30 percent will encounter myalgia resulting from myofascial trigger points.
Defined scientifically as pain in a muscle or a group of muscles, myalgia can be accompanied by other symptoms including fatigue and joint pain. Myalgia may be an independent condition, but it may also be a symptom of a more serious health condition like
- Ehlers-Danlos syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Mixed connective tissue disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme disease
Muscle aches may vary in intensity from mild to severe and, even, debilitating.
The Mechanism of Myalgia
Muscle pain may be a very common experience, but there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding how it occurs. Scientists now classify muscle pain separately from cutaneous pain because it appears that myalgia uses a separate pain mechanism. Muscle pain also has distinct features like poorly localized sensation, tendency for referred pain, and less well-tolerated than pain from skin nerves.
Myalgia originates in nociceptors, pain receptors found deeper in the tissue. These nerves are intended to warn of severe bodily damage and therefore produces a subjectively more painful sensation. Nociceptors are unmyelinated or only thinly myelinated nerves that are activated in the presence of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and protons. ATP is released when tissue is damaged, and proton buildup will acidify tissue.
Patients with chronic muscle pain may suffer from structural changes to the central nervous system caused by over-excitation of nociceptors. Continuous activation of receptors on nociceptors may increase the permeability of ion channels. This, in turn, makes nerves more sensitive to mild stimuli.
Causes of Myalgia
There are many health conditions that may cause muscle pain, including:
- Overuse—among the most common reasons for myalgia is overexertion of a muscle or muscle group. This may cause an accumulation of lactic acid in the muscle tissue which will trigger pain impulses.
- Injury—pain may also arise from damage to the tissue surrounding pain receptors. This injury will initiate a release of ATP which will stimulate pain impulses.
- Cramp—if you exercise for long periods of time in hot weather, you may induce muscle cramping. Cramps often result due to dehydration or low mineral levels.
- Myofascial pain syndrome—this painful condition is often a result of pressure on muscle trigger points. Although similar to muscle soreness caused by overuse, the pain caused by myofascial pain syndrome does not ease over time.
- Stress—stress can cause muscle tension, which if sustained for long enough periods, can produce pain. Anxiety muscle tension may migrate to other muscle groups as well.
- Infection—bacterial or viral infections like influenza or polio may produce muscle pain. Illnesses like the flu may produce aches by actually introducing muscle-degrading genes as well as muscle overuse and dehydration.
- Autoimmune disorders—diseases like lupus and polymyositis cause the immune system to attack muscle tissue. In addition to producing pain, there may also be weakness and difficulty performing simple tasks.
- Fibromyalgia—this chronic condition is marked by widespread pain, but how this ailment operates remains poorly understood.
- Thyroid problems—people with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism may experience myalgia, muscle weakness or stiffness. Why this occurs remains unclear, but there is some evidence that it is related to thyroxine levels.
- Hypokalemia—if your potassium levels are too low, your muscle cells will function improperly. Hypokalemia is often marked by muscle pain and weakness.
Pain Relief for Myalgia
There are many ways to relieve pain associated with myalgia, but you should consult with a physician if you exhibit
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe muscle weakness
- High fever
- Stiff neck
- Tick bite
- “Bullseye” rash
- Lingering soreness
Not all of the following pain relief therapies are appropriate for all kinds of muscle pain.
- RICE—this is an acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Do not ice muscles for more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Physical therapy—it is important to strengthen any muscles where you feel pain. It may feel more natural to rest, but without proper exercise under the supervision of a therapist, your muscles are likely to weaken, promoting the risk of further injury.
- OTC medications—if your doctor recommends it, you may want to try over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Not only will this offer some powerful pain relief, but they will also alleviate inflammation and promote healing.
- Yoga—it may not seem like an ideal solution, but mind-body exercises like yoga or Tai Chi can greatly help with myalgia by increasing strength and flexibility as well as lowering stress.
- Massage—many patients respond positively to massage because of how it releases endorphins, loosens tense muscles, and promotes positive wellbeing.
- Cognitive management—although not all pain is mental, much of how you experience it is. Working with a therapist can help train you not to fear or stress about muscle pain, limiting its potency.
- Good sleep—you may not realize how much good sleep affects your pain symptoms until you are once again able to enjoy truly restorative sleep. If your pain is inhibiting your ability to fall asleep or remain asleep, discuss possible remedies with your doctor.
- Apply heat—a great way to loosen up tense muscles and boost blood flow to an affected area is to apply heat. You may want to try warm compresses or soaking in a warm bath. If you ice your muscles, alternate with heat to restore circulation to your muscles.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.