When Should You Worry About Minor Aches and Muscle Pain?

Medicare Benefits Solutions
Sep 13, 2022

Having minor aches and muscle pain is a normal part of life, especially as you get older. If you’ve ever felt a touch of arthritis pain in the morning or maybe a twinge in your muscles because you slept funny, you aren’t alone. Many people believe that aches and pains are a normal part of aging, but when they start affecting your everyday routine, it may be time to talk to a doctor.

Doctors and specialists have the knowledge, tools, and medications to help find the source of muscle pain when it isn’t from something obvious – like shoveling too much snow or overdoing it on the basketball court. And sometimes, even minor aches and muscle pain can be a signal that there’s a more serious problem that needs to be addressed. That’s why it’s important to have the facts, so you know when to be concerned (or not) about your aches and pains and how to get the muscle pain relief you need to keep up your active lifestyle.

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What Conditions Cause Muscle Pain?

Muscle pain and muscle aches are known as myalgia in the medical profession. Myalgia is a symptom of an underlying disease or condition, and not a condition or disease on its own.

Some of the most common conditions that can cause myalgia are:

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Muscle overuse

Most instances of acute (severe but not necessarily long-term) myalgia happen because a muscle or group of muscles is overworked.

This type of muscle pain is called delayed onset muscle soreness. It happens because the body is working to repair microscopic tears in the muscle and connective tissue that you get when you overwork those muscle groups. Inflammation in the muscles forces the collection of electrolytes and T-cells to help repair the “damage” and this healing process is what causes muscle pain and soreness.

Tension, stress and anxiety

It’s difficult to find a person who doesn’t experience stress, tension, or anxiety these days. Stress not only causes muscles to tense up due to natural instincts, but it also signals the body to produce more cortisol, epinephrine, and other chemicals that make muscles tighten.

During prolonged periods of stress, muscles can remain tense, and you might end up with back or knee pain, or aches in your shoulders or neck. A stressful day of working at the computer can also cause strain.

Arthritis and related health conditions

Arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, myositis, and polymyalgia rheumatica are conditions that affect joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, causing general musculoskeletal pain. If you’re experiencing chronic joint pain or discomfort, talk to your physician.

Other Common Conditions That Can Promote Myalgia

  • Dehydration
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Hypokalemia – low levels of potassium
  • Low levels of vitamin D
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism

What Injuries Cause Muscle Pain?

Regular physical activity and exercise is essential to a strong and healthy lifestyle, but you don’t need to be a professional athlete to suffer an injury that causes muscle pain. In fact, the most common reasons that people incur muscle injuries are advanced age, previous injuries, a lack of flexibility and agility, and weak or tired muscles.

The most common types of injuries that cause muscle pain are:

  • Pulled muscles or ligaments
  • Torn muscles or ligaments
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Trauma
  • Hematoma (bruising)

What Types of infections Cause Muscle Pain?

If you’ve ever had the flu, you’ve probably experienced an achy feeling. Those aches and pains are caused by inflammation coming from damage to muscle tissue caused by the virus. At the same time, your body responds by sending out inflammatory cytokines telling the immune system to do its job. This normal physiological reaction also causes the breakdown of muscle tissue and adds to your achy muscles.

Some common infections that are known to cause myalgia are:

  • Influenza (flu)
  • COVID-19
  • Lyme disease
  • Malaria
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Dengue fever
  • Hemorrhagic fever
  • Polio
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Trichinosis
  • Ebola

If you suspect that a viral infection is causing your muscle aches, make sure to contact your healthcare provider for guidance.

Ways to Relieve Muscle Aches and Pains

When you have achy or painful muscles after a workout, an ice pack and some over-the-counter pain relievers can help you feel better. But for myalgia that is caused by other conditions, injuries, or infections, there are other effective ways to relieve the aches and pains.

It’s important to keep your muscles strong and healthy, so make sure to eat a balanced, healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals, and high-quality protein. Feed your muscles the nutrients they need and drink water. Be sure to drink water before you feel thirsty to avoid dehydration. And don’t overwork yourself in hot environments because sweating too much will pull electrolytes from your muscles and cause cramping.

When stress is the cause of myalgia, it’s important to get relief from that stress. Stop what you’re doing, take some deep breaths, and do something relaxing like listening to music or taking a stroll outside.

Exercises that strengthen and lengthen your muscles can also help you find relief from muscle pain. Chair yoga, Tai Chi, swimming, water aerobics, walking, lifting weights, and other activities that are easy on the joints can help you build muscle.

If arthritis has been keeping you sidelined from physical activity, you can modify your activities to make them easier on your joints and muscles. It’s important to keep moving to avoid stiffness and muscle atrophy that can lead to more aches and pains.

If you have severe knee pain and stiffness, your physician might recommend getting knee gel injections to help you get more active, and without pain.

For chronic conditions and severe pain, you might consider pain management services.
If you have Medicare insurance, your benefits may cover these services. Pain management providers teach techniques for relaxation and therapy to alleviate pain.

TIP: Use the Medicare plan finder to help you find out which plans offer the best arthritis services and compare against your existing coverage.

Do Muscle Relaxers Work for Muscle Pain Relief?

Your health care provider might suggest that you take prescription or over-the-counter muscle relaxers for pain caused by muscle spasms after you’ve tried other types of pain relievers like NSAIDS first.

Muscle relaxers are generally taken for acute, not chronic pain, or for pain that is keeping you awake at night. There are possible side effects, so you should discuss details with your health care provider or pharmacist before taking muscle relaxers.

When Should You See a Doctor About Muscle Aches?

If you’ve had a minor injury, overdid it on the golf course, or have been a bit stressed lately, you can safely treat muscle aches and pains on your own. However, when severe injuries, systemic disease, or an unknown condition causes pain, you should call or visit your physician as soon as possible.

Some pain shouldn’t be ignored. Back muscle pain can be especially life-altering and could keep you from performing normal daily activities. Getting muscle pain relief can help you continue to live independently. There are ways to deal with acute and chronic muscle aches and pains, so you don’t have to live with discomfort or give up your ability to stay active.

You should get immediate medical care if your muscle pain is accompanied by:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Chest muscle pain
  • A fever together with a stiff neck
  • Severe muscle weakness

Make an appointment to see your health care provider if you:

  • Suspect or are certain you have gotten a tick bite, or you have a bull’s eye rash
  • Have calf muscle pain
  • Have redness and swelling close to a sore muscle
  • Are experiencing muscle pain after starting a new medication or have changed dosages
  • Have muscle pain that won’t go away with home care

Don’t let muscle aches and pains keep you on the couch or awake at night. While most cases of myalgia come and go with some tender loving self-care, it’s important to be aware of more extreme conditions that can cause muscle pain, so you can get the right medical care when it’s necessary.

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