An aching body makes every activity more difficult, from getting through your daily grind to going to sleep at night. Sometimes our bodies ache from hard work or exercise, but at other times the causes of muscle aches can be more complex and associated with other symptoms.
Body aches are common. They can result from tiredness or exercise, but they can also be a symptom of an underlying condition.
Body aches can vary in intensity and frequency. A person may describe them as sharp, intermittent pains or a dull but persistent ache.
People can often identify and treat body aches without seeing a doctor. Sometimes, however, they may need medical help.
Signs and symptoms
If body aches are due to a medical condition, a person may experience other symptoms as well. Recognizing other signs can help a person identify the cause and decide whether they should see a doctor.
Some common symptoms that occur alongside body aches are:
- shivers or changes in body temperature
- cold and flu-like symptoms
- pain in a specific part of the body
Body aches may occur for many different reasons. Most are easily treatable and relatively harmless, but sometimes body aches can be due to more serious medical conditions.
Possible causes of body aches include:
Infections and viruses
The flu, the common cold, and other viral or bacterial infections can cause body aches.
When such infections occur, the immune system sends white blood cells to fight off the infection.
This can result in inflammation, which can leave the muscles in the body feeling achy and stiff.
Pain, fatigue, and muscle stiffness are all symptoms of fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes aches and pains throughout the body.
Fibromyalgia may result from the way the central nervous system processes pain messages when they occur in the body.
StressStress can cause tension in the body and can also weaken the immune system. This may make the muscles feel stiff, as well as affect the body’s response to inflammation and infection.
DehydrationStaying hydrated is essential to keep a person’s body functioning well. Dehydration can sometimes cause a person to feel tired and sore.
Hypokalemia is when a person has low potassium in their bloodstream.
Low potassium affects the way nerves and muscles function, which can result in body aches, weakness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.
When the body retains fluid, swelling and inflammation may develop, resulting in general muscular aches and pains. A person may also experience sharp, localized pains and cramps.
Conditions that can lead to fluid retention include:
- severe malnutrition
- chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome
- venous insufficiency
- problems with lymphatic drainage
- thyroid problems, especially an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- congestive heart failure
- cirrhosis of the liver
Lack of sleepLack of sleep also affects the body’s ability to repair tissues and cells. When the body does not have sufficient time to repair and recuperate, a person may experience aches and pains more frequently.
PneumoniaPneumonia is a lung infection that can be very dangerous without treatment. Pneumonia may result in an inability to get enough oxygen into the body.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)In a similar way to a person who does not get enough sleep, someone with CFS may experience muscular aches in addition to insomnia, exhaustion, and weakness.
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A doctor will prescribe treatment for any underlying condition that causes body aches and pains, but a person can also try the following remedies to help alleviate the discomfort:
Having a warm bath: The heat can help relax muscles and ease tension in the body.
Resting: This allows the body time to repair and recuperate.
Regulating temperature: This may include reducing a fever, keeping warm, or staying cool to alleviate shivering and prevent the muscles from seizing up.
Drinking plenty of fluids: Staying hydrated can help ease achiness caused by dehydration.
Taking over-the-counter medications (OTC): Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain and inflammation.
Mild body aches that improve over time and ease with rest, rehydration, and OTC treatment are usually no cause for concern.
However, body aches can also be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
If a person experiences frequent or persistent body aches or aches that occur alongside other, more severe symptoms, they should speak with a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.