The body consists of over 650 skeletal muscles, making us all prone to muscle pain. Also known as myalgia, it can be caused by overuse, injuries, stress or inflammation. It can be mild or severe, brief or long-lasting. Identifying the type of muscle pain you have is the first step to treating your muscle pain.
Basic Muscular Anatomy
Muscle- There are three main types of muscles- skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscles. Skeletal muscles are the type that move our bones. Smooth muscles and cardiac muscles move the internal organs and tissues. Muscles are made up of long, stretchy, elastic cells and fibers. They contract and relax when they get messages from the body’s nerves.
Tendons and Ligaments- Both are flexible, fibrous connective tissue that serve to move and stabilize the bones within our bodies. Tendons attach bone to muscle, while ligaments attach bone to bone.
Types of Muscle Injuries
Sprains- A sprain is a muscle injury or tear caused by a twisting movement. Common causes of sprains are sports injuries, falls, twisting of a joint or any type of trauma.
Strains– A strain is an injury to the muscle typically caused by overuse or repetitive motion, force, or over-stretching. The lower-back and the hamstring muscles are common places for strains.
Tears– A tear can have similar symptoms to a strain or a sprain but involves the actual tearing of the fibrous muscle tissue. Like sprains and strains, muscle tears can seriously impact the affected areas range of motion.
Contusions (Bruises)– A contusion, or a bruise, is an area of skin or tissue where blood capillaries have burst because of injury or trauma. Contusions can make the affected area sensitive to the touch.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Tendonitis– Tendonitis is any injury that causes inflammation in the tendons. Common causes of tendonitis include overuse or repetitive motions. Common types of tendonitis are named from sports that can cause each type. Examples include tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, swimmers shoulder and more. With tendonitis, pain worsens with movement. The affected area may have heat, swelling or redness. Risk of tendonitis increases with age as tendons become less flexible and more susceptible to injury with increasing age. Other risk factors include profession, hobbies/sports and previously existing bone or muscle conditions.
Bursitis– Bursitis has similar symptoms to tendonitis with swelling, heat, redness and impaired range of motion in the affected area but it is the inflammation of the bursa (rather than the tendon). The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the space between muscles and bones or tendons. These areas can become inflamed causing extreme pain. Bursitis is typically caused by overuse or direct trauma to the joint but older age, sports/activities and preexisting bone or muscle diseases/injuries can also be major risk factors for developing bursitis.
Mild muscle soreness can be treated with self-care methods including R.I.C.E, or addressing the root of the problem. R.I.C.E. stands for:
Rest– With a strained muscle or soreness from overuse, it is important to rest the muscle. This is a key component to repairing the body during the initial 24-48 hours after an injury. After this period- generally you should resume some degree of activity or range of motion exercise ensuring the muscle doesn’t become weak or de-conditioned on the contrary.
Ice– Ice is excellent in reducing swelling (the inflammatory response) associated with any type of inflammatory pain. It reduces and slows blood flow to the area. Apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes at a time for best results.
Compression– Compression can be achieved through bandages or wraps around the injured area. This will help address swelling that results from the inflammatory process. Some swelling is inevitable however.
Elevation– Elevating the injured extremity will reduce swelling by increasing blood return and circulation.
Prevention- Prevention is the best method to avoid musculoskeletal pain. Warm up and stretch before doing physically demanding activities. Keep your muscles and tendons in good condition by taking frequent walks and lightly exercising each day. When lifting heavy loads be sure to use good technique. Be sure to lift from the knees and legs- avoid putting strain on the back muscles. Lastly, take frequent breaks when doing physically demanding activities.
- Medications– When starting a new medication it is important to know the potential side effects of your medications. A few that may cause muscle weakness include diuretics (water pills), ACE Inhibitors (for blood pressure), and Statins (For cholesterol)
- Infections- Infections can lead to inflammation, malaise (body aches), or electrolyte imbalances
- Diseases and Conditions- Fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, hypothyroidism, lupus, arthritis- just to name a few.
- Nutritional Imbalances- Potassium is essential for muscular function. Becoming too high or too low in potassium (or sodium, its counterpart) because of excessive sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, or other chronic conditions can lead to muscle weakness, spasms, or soreness among other symptoms unrelated to myalgia.