What Your Muscle Pain Is Telling You

Typically when you have muscle pain it's equated to soreness from working out or maybe an injury. But what most don't consider is how muscle pain is often associated with chronic health conditions.

Muscle pain tops the symptom list for many illnesses and health conditions from the flu to fibromyalgia. Subtle differences in severity and location of muscle pain provide hints about what's going on inside your body. What does your muscle pain say about your health? Here, five common conditions that may be causing your muscle pain.

1. Osteoarthritis is inflammation of a joint caused by wear and tear or injury. The tissues that line the joint deteriorate over time and can create damage to the bones, nerves, and muscles surrounding the joint. Muscles responsible for that joint's movement get tender when bones become misaligned and when nerves become trapped between bones or due to tension from trying to keep the joint functional. Your muscle pain may be associated with arthritis if it's located close to a joint in your hands, knees, shoulders, neck and/or lower back.

2. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that leads to inflammation of the joints, surrounding tissues and other organs. Muscle pain associated with RA usually occurs on both sides of the body, especially in the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes, and neck. It's also associated with fatigue, recurring fevers, poor appetite, redness and inflammation of skin and a host of other symptoms. 

3. Fibromyalgia is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. Fibromyalgia is currently thought to cause pain because of the way your brain processes pain signals.  You might have fibromyalgia if your muscle pain feels like a dull ache on both sides of the body, especially in specific tender points located in these areas:

  • Back of the head
  • Between shoulder blades
  • Top of shoulders
  • Front sides of neck
  • Upper chest
  • Outer elbows
  • Upper hips
  • Sides of hips
  • Inner knees

4. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system attacks different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. Muscle pain occurs in response to inflammation of associated tissues. Lupus is suspected when there's a butterfly-shaped rash on the face, covering the nose and cheeks and deep fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, stiffness, and many other symptoms.

5. Influenza. Muscle pain doesn't always indicate chronic disease. Sometimes it's associated with the flu, a viral infection that causes high fever, respiratory congestion and cough, severe fatigue, headache and muscle pain. While some people are at high-risk for serious complications caused by influenza, most people recover within a week or so. The best way to avoid the flu is by getting an annual flu vaccine.


The Arthritis Foundation


National Fibromyalgia Association


Lupus Foundation of America


National Institutes of Health