Myalgia (Muscle Pain)

Definition

Myalgia is the medical term used to describe muscle pain. Myalgia can affect any person and any muscle starting from the neck, back, leg or even hand muscle. The most common causes of myalgia are overuse, stretching, stress, tension and injury. It is a common symptoms in most viral infections and can occur for no known reasons in certain cases such as with fibromyalgia.

Intake of certain drugs may also cause muscle pain. Myalgia may be localized to single muscle or may become widespread. Mild cases of myalgia usually subside within few days with adequate rest, painkillers or hot compression but severe cases of myalgia require more intensive therapy to manage the underlying condition.

Symptoms

Common symptoms include :

  • Pain felt in a particular group of muscles or in a more widespread manner.
  • Reduced activity of the muscles.

Sometimes muscle cramps may be associated with myalgia characterized by sudden involuntary stiffening of the muscle due to uncontrolled muscle contraction. The affected muscle can be felt easily as it becomes hard and like a lump. Myalgia affecting the neck muscles may lead to neck pain and headache. Sometimes associated numbness, tingling sensation may be felt in the arms, limbs or neck region.

Causes

The most common causes are :

  • Overuse, stretching or maintaining same posture for prolonged period.
  • Physical injury to muscles leading to muscle sprain or strain.
  • Due to some underlying diseases namely :
    – Rhabdomyolysis where the skeletal muscle proteins break down due to viral infection, severe potassium deficiency, intake of certain drugs like fibrates used to lower blood triglycerides, statins used to lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure lowering agents like ACE inhibitors, certain anti HIV drugs.
    – Fibromyalgia: it is a disease characterized by severe widespread muscle pain, fatigue and increased pain sensation in response to touch. Muscle pains are often associated with muscle cramp, tingling and pricking sensation.
    – Chronic exertional compartment syndrome is an uncommon disease characterized by exercise induced pain in the muscles sometimes disability in function of the affected muscle.
    – Chronic fatigue syndrome characterized by fatigue not relieved by rest and worsened by physical or mental activity.
    – Claudication characterized by muscle pain following poor blood supply to muscles during exercise. Leg muscles are commonly affected but arms can also be affected.
    – Infection by certain viruses like influenza, dengue, polio and hemorrhagic fever.
    – Infection by certain bacteria like toxoplasmosis, meningitis, Lyme disease, muscle abscess due to mixed bacterial infection following trauma.
    – Infection by other organisms like malaria and roundworm.
  • Due to some autoimmune disease when the immune system of the body wrongly produces antibody against self proteins. Common autoimmune diseases associated with myalgia are systemic lupus erythematosus, polymyositis, dermatomyosis, multiple sclerosis where pain is usually confined to the muscles of specific dermatome.
  • Some metabolic diseases like poor functioning of adrenal gland, adrenal insufficiency, dysfunction of thyroid gland either hyper- or hypothyroidism.
  • Sometimes sudden stoppage of some prescription drugs after long term use may lead to withdrawal symptoms and muscle pain. Common drugs include opioids, barbiturate and benzodiazepine.
  • Sudden stoppage of alcohol in a chronic alcoholic may also lead to myalgia.

Risk factors

  • Excessive exercise specially in athletes and military recruits.
  • Weight bearing.
  • Intake of certain drugs like statins.

Treatment

Myalgia is symptom and the treatment should be directed at the underlying cause. Treatment options for myalgia specifically include resting the affected muscle, hot or cold compression, massaging, intake of certain drugs like painkillers, NSAIDs namely ibuprofen and muscle relaxants like tizanidine.

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