Many underlying causes of body aches can be easily identified and treated without having to see a doctor. Body aches can vary in intensity and frequency. They may be described as sharp, intermittent pains or a dull but persistent ache.
If a person experiences body aches, identifying the cause will help them find an appropriate treatment, as well as whether they have any reason to be concerned.
Signs and symptoms of body aches
Symptoms that occur alongside body aches may include pain, fatigue, and weakness.
Body aches often occur alongside other symptoms. Recognizing other signs can help a person identify the cause and 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
Possible causes of body aches
There are many different reasons why body aches may occur. While most instances of body aches are easily treatable and relatively harmless, there are some more serious medical conditions that include body aches as a symptom.
Possible causes of body aches include:
Pain, fatigue, and muscle stiffness are all symptoms of fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes aches and pains throughout the body.
Fibromyalgia is thought to be related to how the central nervous system processes pain messages when they occur in the body.
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, which can leave the muscles in the body feeling achy and stiff.
Some medicines and drugs, such as statins and blood pressure medications, have side effects that make the body feel sore, stiff, and achy.
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and certain drugs, including cocaine and opiates, can also have a similar effect.
Retaining fluid in the body can cause the muscles to swell and press on the nerves, resulting in general muscular aches and pains. A person may also experience sharp, localized pains and cramps.
Thyroid problems, especially an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), can cause fluid retention. Other conditions that can cause a person to retain fluid include congestive heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver, severe malnutrition, chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome, venous insufficiency, and problems with lymphatic drainage.
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.
Staying hydrated is essential to keep a person's body functioning well. Dehydration can sometimes cause a person to feel tired and sore.
Lack of sleep
A lack of sleep may lead to exhaustion, which can cause aches and pains.
Over time, not getting enough sleep can lead to exhaustion.
This may make the body feel achy, sluggish, and heavy.
Lack 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.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can be very dangerous if left untreated. Pneumonia may result in an inability to get enough oxygen into the body.
Without enough oxygen, red blood cells and tissues in the body are not able to function properly, which may cause aches and pains.
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.
Arthritis occurs when a person's joints become inflamed. Arthritis can be caused by wear and tear on the body or may be a result of an autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack the healthy tissues that line the joints. Pain and achiness are common symptoms of arthritis.
A variety of autoimmune disorders can cause body aches. These include:
- Lupus occurs when a person's immune system begins to attack healthy tissues, causing inflammation.
- Myositis means "inflammation of the muscles." Other symptoms of myositis include fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune condition that affects the central nervous system. People with MS feel body aches and pains because the tissue surrounding their nerve cells has broken down due to persistent inflammation.
Home treatment for body aches includes drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated.
Whether body aches are caused by a common cold or a more serious underlying condition, a person can try the following remedies to help alleviate the discomfort:
- Resting to allow the body time to repair and recuperate.
- Drinking plenty of fluids, as staying hydrated can help ease achiness caused by dehydration.
- Taking over-the-counter medications, including Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain and inflammation.
- Having a warm bath, as the heat can help relax muscles and ease tension in the body.
- Regulating temperature, which may include reducing a fever, keeping warm, or staying cool to alleviate shivering and prevent the muscles from seizing up.
When to see a doctor
If home treatment is ineffective, or when body aches become more intense, are persistent, or are accompanied by other symptoms, a person should speak to a doctor. The doctor can help diagnose the cause of body aches and determine if treatment is necessary.
A person should see a doctor if they experience:
- persistent pain that does not improve with home remedies
- severe pain, especially if there is no apparent cause
- any body aches or pains accompanied by a rash
- body aches and pains that occur after a tick bite
- body aches or muscular pain accompanied by severe redness or swelling
- body aches caused by a particular medication
- a persistent fever
Other symptoms that can accompany body aches may require emergency medical attention. These include:
- severe water retention
- difficulty swallowing, eating, or drinking
- shortness of breath
- being sick, particularly if accompanied by a high temperature or fever
- a stiff neck
- extreme exhaustion that does not go away
- sensitivity to light
- weak muscles or being unable to move the affected area
- fainting or loss of consciousness
- having a seizure
If body aches continue for more than 2 weeks and the underlying cause cannot be identified, a person should make an appointment with a doctor regardless of whether any other symptoms occur.
Mild body aches that improve over time and are eased by rest, rehydration, and over-the-counter 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.