Body aches are an uncomfortable but common symptom of a variety of medical ailments. If you’re experiencing body aches, your muscles may feel weak, sore, tired, or hard to move.
For most, body aches are easily treatable—a few days of rest and hydration can provide relief from any discomfort. For some, body aches, particularly those that last a long time, can indicate a serious underlying medical condition that may require treatment.
What Are Body Aches?
Body aches are an uncomfortable symptom caused by muscle inflammation and soreness. Sometimes, body aches can be sharp and intermittent, while in other instances, they may feel more like a prolonged, dull, generalized ache.
Most body aches are short-term and harmless, and can be a result of your lifestyle, illness or any underlying condition. Body aches occur when your muscles are inflamed, either through physical stress, or through an immune response.
If you stand, walk, or exercise for long periods of time, you may feel achy because those activities can cause muscle stress and strain. If you’re suffering from the flu, a cold, or other communicable diseases, you may also feel body aches. As your body fights off infection, it triggers an immune response that causes short-term muscle inflammation, in turn making you feel uncomfortable, or achy.
Related Signs and Symptoms
Body aches are often experienced in conjunction with other symptoms, which can be helpful in determining the underlying cause of your soreness. Common symptoms you might experience in addition to body aches include:
- Fatigue: You may feel tired, fatigued, exhausted, like it’s difficult to move, or like your body is heavy or weighed down.
- Chills: You may also shiver, feel abnormally cold without any cause, or complain that you feel chills running through your body.
- Fever: Fevers, or body temperatures of more than 100° F (37.8° C), are often associated with feelings of muscle achiness or soreness.
- Headache: Headaches are another symptom commonly linked to body aches.
- Sore throat: Body aches and sore throat, nasal congestion, or runny nose can be experienced simultaneously.
Common Causes of Body Aches
Body aches can be a cause of both short-term ailments and long-term conditions. Healthy people may experience body aches after standing, walking, or exercising for a prolonged period of time. In others, body aches are a sign of an underlying medical condition or infection.
Common causes of body aches include:
- Stress: Exposure to prolonged stress can trigger widespread inflammation, muscle tension, and pain.
- Lack of sleep: Regular sleep deprivation can contribute to the development of chronic pain. Sleeping gives your body a chance to repair and recuperate from your daily activities. If you can’t or don’t sleep, your body’s repair cycle becomes disrupted, which can lead to feeling more aches and pains.
- Dehydration: When you lose more fluids than you take in, you become dehydrated, a condition that can cause muscle cramps, tension, and fatigue.
- Fluid retention: Certain conditions can cause your body to abnormally retain water, leading to swelling, inflammation, cramps, pain, and muscle soreness.
- Infections and viruses: Viral and bacterial infections like head colds, influenza, and coronavirus (COVID-19) trigger an immune system response that can cause muscle inflammation and body aches.
- Hypokalemia: Hypokalemia, or low potassium, can affect your body’s nerves and muscles and lead to cramps and pain.
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia, a condition that affects the central nervous system, often causes muscle aches, stiffness, and fatigue.
- Myositis: Chronic muscle pain, as well as fatigue and general discomfort, can be signs of myositis.
- Arthritis: If you have arthritis, your immune system attacks the healthy tissue that lines your joints, leading to inflammation and chronic pain.
- Lupus: Lupus, an autoimmune disorder, can cause aches and pains.
- Multiple sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that affects your central nervous system and can cause symptoms that include body aches and pain.
How to Relieve Body Aches
You can alleviate the symptoms of an achy body with a few simple, at-home remedies: rest, recuperation, and drinking plenty of fluids. There are a few other steps you can take at home to find relief.
- Get plenty of sleep: A lack of sleep can exacerbate body aches and the conditions that lead to them. Sleeping gives your body a chance to fight off infections, heal itself, and recuperate.
- Stay hydrated: Doctors recommend that adults drink between 4-6 cups of water a day to avoid dehydration. Drinking enough fluids cushions your joints, reduces inflammation, and lessens the muscle tension that can cause body aches and other symptoms.
- Use heat: To lessen your discomfort, draw yourself a warm bath, take a long shower, or use heat pads or blankets to soothe aching muscles and painful joints.
- Take an anti-inflammatory: Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin IB), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are all useful medicines to have on hand when you need to treat different kinds of muscle pain. Ibuprofen and naproxen sodium treat muscle inflammation, soreness, stiffness, and tension, while acetaminophen works best on muscle tension and pain (but does not treat inflammation). If you find that over-the-counter medication does not improve your condition, talk to your doctor about whether a muscle relaxant or other prescription medication might better address your body aches.
- Try massage therapy or acupuncture: Massage therapy increases blood flow to your muscles, which eases discomfort. Acupuncture, with its emphasis on acupressure points, has been found to provide some relief for patients struggling with joint and muscle pain.
- Incorporate low-impact exercise: If you have fibromyalgia or another autoimmune disorder, moderate, low-impact exercises can help you manage your condition over the long term. Studies have shown that exercise can help decrease the severity of your pain, increase your joint flexibility, enhance your overall well being, and improve your quality of life.
When to See a Doctor
If you have severe body aches, or you have body aches coupled with other symptoms, home remedies or self treatment may not be enough. If your body aches are debilitating or don’t go away on their own, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor to identify the cause of your pain and any treatment options that might help you manage it more effectively. Contact your doctor if you’re experiencing:
- Extreme muscle weakness or loss of mobility
- Difficulty swallowing, eating, or drinking
- Trouble breathing or dizziness
- Severe water retention
- Persistent pain that does not improve with home treatments
- Body aches related to a tick bite or unexplained rash
- Persistent fever (a temperature of 100° F/37.8° C or above)
- Medication-induced body aches
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- A stiff neck
- Sensitivity to light or other changes in vision
- Extreme fatigue that does not get better with sleep
- Fainting, seizure, or a loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained body aches that occur for more than two weeks
Make an appointment with your doctor to talk through your symptoms, identify your ailment, and discuss future treatment options.
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