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Muscle aches and pains: prevention and treatment

What is muscle pain?

Muscle pain, also known as myalgia, is a very common health problem that almost everyone experiences at some point in life. Its intensity is variable, ranging from mild discomfort to much more intense pain.

This ailment can occur in one or more than one muscle, as well as ligaments, tendons and fascia (soft tissues that connect muscles, bones and organs). It can be felt in a general way, all over the body, or it can be localized in a specific part such as the neck, back, chest, legs, shoulders, among others.

What types of muscle pain exist

In general, muscle aches occur especially in people under 50 years of age with repetitive work or sports activities.

The most frequent causes of this type of pain are usually exertion, overload, tension or minor injuries. Depending on their relationship to exercise, muscle pain can be grouped into three different groups:

– Muscle pain during or immediately after exercise: it usually appears in specific muscles and the pain occurs while performing the physical activity or just after finishing it.

– Post-exercise muscle soreness: this is pain that arises after a period of 24 to 48 hours following exercise. They are caused by microtraumas and inflammation in the muscles.

– Resting muscle pain: if there is no weakness, it is not usually associated with a muscular disease.

When the pain is not related to exercise or muscle activity, it may be the result of a condition, disease or virus, so it may be necessary to consult a doctor. Some common diseases that cause it may be:

– Chronic fatigue syndrome.

– Claudication.

– COVID-19 disease, influenza and other viral diseases.

– Dermatomyositis.

– Fibromyalgia.

– Dystonia.

– Hypothyroidism.

– Lupus.

– Lyme disease.

– Polymyositis.

– Rheumatoid arthritis.

– Myofascial pain syndrome.

Causes of muscle pain

The activity that causes muscle pain is usually easily identified: a bad gesture, the practice of a sport or as a consequence of some circumstances such as:

– Trauma: Muscle sprains and strains.

– Muscle overloads.

– Tension and stress.

– Certain diseases.

– Side effects of some medications.

This type of pain, as previously mentioned, usually occurs in the arms, legs, back, shoulders, abdomen and hips, although it can appear throughout the body. The symptoms that are common among people with muscle pain are:

– Shooting pains

– Numbness

– Muscle stiffness

– Burning sensation

– Difficulty or discomfort with certain movements

– Swelling

How to tell if the pain is muscular or internal

At times, it can be difficult to tell whether the pain is muscular or internal, from the bone. However, there are some signs that can help differentiate muscle pain from bone pain.

Primarily, bone pain may last longer than muscle pain and may require medical assistance. On the other hand, when it comes to muscles, it may be more difficult to identify the exact area of pain.

With regard to symptoms, as noted above, the symptoms of muscle pain may include stabbing pain, swelling, redness or pain when performing certain movements. On the other hand, bone pain may be due to a fracture. In this case, the symptoms are:

– Severe pain

– Limitation of movement

– Limb deformity

Treatments for muscle pain

Muscle pain, in most cases, is usually temporary and eventually improves after a few days. If desired, anti-inflammatory or analgesic drugs can be used to alleviate the discomfort, always under the supervision of a health professional, such as a doctor or pharmacist.

In case of serious injury after an exercise session, it is necessary to go to a medical center for a proper evaluation and specific treatment. The symptoms that usually indicate that we are in the case of a serious injury are:

– Persistent or very severe pain

– Signs of infection (swelling, redness around the muscle).

– Poor blood circulation to the affected area.

– Vomiting, fever or stiff neck.

– Muscle weakness or inability to move.

Other cases that indicate the need for medical attention are the following circumstances:

– Trouble breathing or dizziness.

– A proven or probable tick bite.

– A rash in the form of a red ring surrounded by a clear area with a red center.

– Muscle pain after taking a medication or increasing a dose.

– Muscle pain that does not improve over time (more than three days).

– Unexplained muscle pain.

– Pain is accompanied by sudden weight gain, fluid retention or if you urinate less than usual.

How to prevent muscle pain

Although there are several methods that can help to avoid this type of muscle pain without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs, there are some recommendations and guidelines that can be followed to avoid possible muscle pain. Some recommendations and guidelines that can be followed to avoid possible muscle pain are the following:

– Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles and joints.

– Warm up well before exercise and stretch after practice.

– Stretch before and after exercise.

– Sleep in a comfortable position for rest: preferably on your side or on your back.

– Drink plenty of fluids before and after exercise. Dehydrated muscles are more prone to injury.

If you work in the same position most of the day, it is very important to check your posture and get up regularly, with guidelines such as:

– Stretch at least every hour.

– If you work in front of a computer, place the screen at eye level.

– Keep your back straight, without straining your neck.

– Avoid standing or standing with your head turned for long periods of time to avoid muscle tension.

For children, there are some specific recommendations that can help them if they report any discomfort or pain due to the weight they carry in their school backpacks:

– Carry backpacks in their size, as a larger backpack can compromise their posture.

– Backpack handles should be padded to avoid shoulder pain.

– Place the backpack at a medium height to avoid overloading.

Tips for treating muscle pain

According to the severity of the injury, there are also some recommendations and advice that can help relieve the pain. In case it is mild, we can resort to taking an anti-inflammatory and/or analgesic that does not require a prescription. If you choose not to take medication, some guidelines that can be applied are:

– Take initial rest.

– Avoid exercises that could worsen the pain.

– Protect the affected area against further injury (crutch, sling…) or use a compression bandage to reduce swelling.

– Perform stretching.

– Elevate the injured area while resting, especially at night, to allow gravity to help reduce swelling.

– Massage the sore muscle.

In case of injury:

Apply ice or a bag of frozen peas between 24 and 72 hours after injury for 20 minutes, several times a day. Never apply ice directly to the skin.

Rest and compress the muscle with a bandage during the day to reduce swelling.

If the pain persists, analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs may be considered.

Is there a way to prevent muscle soreness after exercise?

Exercise is a fundamental aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, there is a risk of muscle soreness, especially in the case of new exercises or high-intensity training.

This pain may appear about 12 hours after the end of the sports practice, although the highest degree of pain may be reached after two or three days. In the case of muscle pain, this may be relieved in a short time or after several days. While the pain exists, it is recommended:

– Gentle stretching

– Muscle massage

– Apply ice in case of inflammation

– Bath or shower with warm water

– Applying heat to increase blood flow to the muscles

– Resting

When should I see a doctor for muscle pain?

There are certain cases of muscle pain that may require a visit to a doctor:

– Pain that lasts more than 2 days

– Very intense pain

– High fever

– Pain accompanied by breathing problems

– Muscle weakness

– Over-the-counter medicine does not help reduce symptoms

– Medical treatment does not relieve pain

Is there a specific treatment for chronic muscle pain?

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic muscle pain disorder that generally occurs after repeated contraction of a muscle.

In some cases, it can lead to fibromyalgia.

– It is characterized by symptoms such as:

– Intense muscle pain

– Persistent pain

– Sleep problems due to pain

In general, treatment of myofascial pain syndrome may include medication and physical therapy:

Medications: over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed pain relievers may be helpful, and some antidepressants may reduce pain.

Physical therapy: the physical therapist professional can develop a pain relief plan

This may include:

– Performance of gentle stretching exercises

– Postural exercises

– Massage of the affected muscle

– Application of heat by means of a hot shower to relieve muscle tension

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