Muscle pain is a general term referring to any complaint affecting the muscles and tissue connected to it. Muscle pain is common. Back ache is so common, in fact, that it’s the leading cause of sickness from work*. It is estimated that four out of every five adults will experience back pain at some time during their life. Muscle pain is not normally serious but can be debilitating and upsetting. In most cases pain lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Around 90% of people recover within 6 weeks.
Aches and pains in the muscles and connecting tissues
What causes muscle pain?
Our muscles turn energy into motion. Out back in particular has to work hard taking all the strain by supporting most of our body weight. All kinds of activities can cause muscle aches and pains. Most are caused by overuse or muscle injury from exercise or physical work.
Muscle pain can also affect the whole body as a result of an infection such as flu, or disorders that affect the body’s connective tissues (the structural support between all the organs and tissues in our bodies).
A condition called fibromyalgia is another common cause of muscle pain - it’s a condition that causes tenderness in the muscles and surrounding soft tissue.
How is muscle pain treated?
If your muscles start to hurt, it’s important to rest that part of the body. To reduce swelling and pain you can take ibuprofen (available over-the-counter) and apply ice for the first 24 - 72 hours of an injury. After that, heat can be applied via a heat pack, heat patch, deep heat spray or hot water bottle. The heat will feel soothing and boost circulation to the area providing it with increased blood flow and therefore more oxygen to aid recovery.
If you suffer from chronic muscle pain, regular exercise can help to restore proper muscle tone. Walking, cycling, and swimming are all good aerobic activities. A physical therapist will be able to teach you stretching, toning, and aerobic exercises so that you feel better and stay pain-free. Workouts should begin slowly and increase gradually. Avoid high-impact aerobic activities and weight lifting when injured or in pain.
If these measures fail a doctor may refer you to a pain clinic, physiotherapist or osteopath.
Sometimes an epidural steroid injection is offered for ongoing pain but the effectiveness is debatable.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
- Muscle pain can be avoided by stretching and warming up and cooling down before and after exercise. It’s also important to keep well hydrated.
- If you work in the same position most of the day (like sitting at a computer), stretch at least every hour.
- A heat patch or deep heat spray can aid pain relief after a physically demanding day.
- Get plenty of sleep and try to reduce stress. Yoga and meditation may help.
- Some people use a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine as an alternative to painkillers. This transmits small electrical pulses to the body which may ease certain types of pain. The effectiveness of TENS is inconclusive. TENS can be bought for home use.