Muscle pain that does not go away after several days or is accompanied by symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, and extreme weakness requires medical assistance.

Muscle pain, also called myalgia, can occur for many reasons and may stem from other tissues, such as tendons, ligaments, or fascia.

While many cases of muscle pain occur due to an injury, some muscle pain may indicate an underlying medical condition.

Read on to learn when to call a doctor about muscle pain and when it may be necessary to contact 911. This article will also explain conditions that cause muscle pain, the process of diagnosis, and more.

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A person who experiences unexplained muscle pain that is persistent, severe, or associated with other symptoms should contact a doctor.

Persistent muscle pain can also indicate an underlying condition. It is best to contact a doctor if a person experiences muscle pain accompanied by the symptoms outlined below:

  • inflammation, warmth, or swelling around the sore muscle
  • a tick bite or possible tick bite
  • a rash, particularly one shaped like a “bull’s eye” target
  • muscle pain during physical activity that goes away at rest
  • severe muscle pain for no obvious reason
  • muscle pain when starting or increasing a medication dose

Not all muscle pain is minor. Sometimes, it can signal an underlying serious condition that needs medical care. Certain muscle pain may even indicate a critical issue that needs emergency treatment.

Anyone experiencing muscle pain with the symptoms below should call 911:

These symptoms can indicate more severe underlying causes, such as infection.

Injuries are a common cause of muscle pain.

However, many other conditions can also cause muscle pain. These include autoimmune disorders, infections, and conditions of the nerves or muscles.


Injuries from sports, overuse, or an accident can cause muscle pain. Types of injuries include:

  • Strains: Injuries to muscles and tendons, which are bands that connect muscle to bone, can cause muscle pain.
  • Sprains: A sprain is an injury to the ligaments, the bands that connect bones together.
  • Tendinosis: Tendinosis is inflammation of a tendon that likely occurs after an injury to the tendon that does not heal.
  • Tendon tear: Tearing occurs when a tendon tears away from the bone due to sudden forceful events, such as lifting, throwing, jumping, or running. Tendon tears cause sharp, intense pain and sometimes a popping sound.
  • Compartment syndrome: Compartment syndrome occurs when pressure builds in a muscle, typically after an injury. It can also be chronic, triggered by exercise.

Delayed onset muscle soreness

Strenuous exercise can cause delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This refers to muscle pain or stiffness that develops after strenuous physical activity.

A person with DOMS can experience stiffness, swelling, and restriction of movement. Symptoms peak 48–72 hours after exercise and typically resolve after a few days. A person can try the following to manage symptoms:


Rhabdomyolysis refers to the breakdown of damaged muscle.

This breakdown releases the contents of the muscle cells into the blood, potentially resulting in organ damage. This condition can result from any type of muscle damage, such as muscle overuse and accidents resulting in injury.

Symptoms include:

  • muscle pain, cramps, or aches
  • dark urine
  • feeling weak or tired
  • being unable to finish a workout routine or job task

Rhabdomyolysis can also lead to compartment syndrome.

Autoimmune conditions

The immune system works to fight off harmful organisms to maintain health, but sometimes, it can mistakenly attack body tissues, causing an autoimmune disorder.

Examples of autoimmune conditions include:

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica: Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that causes pain and stiffness in the hips, neck, and shoulders.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): The most common form of lupus is SLE, a condition that leads to inflammation, tissue damage, aching, or swelling in the joints. Muscle pain is not uncommon in SLE.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): MS occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system, causing muscle weakness, spasms, tingling, and pain in the arms, legs, face, or trunk.
  • Inclusion body myositis: This happens when the immune system attacks the muscles, causing widespread muscle inflammation, weakness, and pain.


Viral, bacterial, and parasite infections can cause many symptoms, including muscle aches. Examples of infections that can cause muscle pain include:

  • Flu: The flu is a respiratory virus that causes fever, a cough, and muscle aches.
  • Lyme disease: Lyme disease results from bacteria that a tick transmits to humans through a bite. It can cause many symptoms, including rashes, fever, and muscle pain.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF): RMSF is an infection that spreads through tick bites, causing fever, rashes, headache, and muscle aches.
  • Malaria: Malaria is a parasitic infection that mosquitos spread to humans through a bite. It causes fever, vomiting, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms.
  • Trichinellosis: This is a parasite infection that a person can contract by eating raw or undercooked meat containing the trichinella worm. It causes nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints.

Neuromuscular conditions

Neuromuscular conditions refer to disorders of the nerves and muscles that may cause muscle pain. Examples include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): ALS is a neurological disorder that affects the nerves in the brain and spine, causing painful muscle spasms, twitching, and cramping.
  • Muscular dystrophy: Muscular dystrophy refers to several genetic conditions that affect muscle function and cause muscle pain.
  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA): SMA is a genetic disorder that damages or kills nerves in the brain and spine, causing weakness and pain in the neck, back, and legs.


Several other conditions can cause muscle pain, including:

  • Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS): MPS is a pain condition occurring from inflammation in the muscles and fascia. The fascia is the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds every organ, bone, nerve fiber, muscle, and blood vessel in the body.
  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes fatigue, pain, muscle tenderness, and stiffness throughout the body.
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD): PAD occurs when blood vessels in the legs or arms become narrow and cause pain during activity that goes away at rest.
  • Electrolyte imbalance: An imbalance in electrolytes can cause cramping, weakness, and pain.

Distinguishing the type of muscle pain a person is experiencing depends on several factors, such as its:

  • duration
  • intensity
  • onset (sudden or not)
  • location
  • associated symptoms, if any

It is also important to consider whether the person has a history of injuries.

Pain that is persistent, intense, comes on without cause, or is accompanied by additional symptoms may indicate a more serious problem.

Diagnosing the cause of muscle pain may include a combination of the following:

  • a medical history
  • a physical examination
  • imaging studies, such as X-rays or MRI tests
  • blood tests to rule out underlying conditions

Treatment for minor muscle pain involves taking over-the-counter pain medications and using the RICE method, which involves the following:

  • rest
  • ice
  • compression
  • elevation

Severe conditions causing muscle pain may require physical therapy or surgical intervention. Pain that results from a chronic condition will require long-term management of that condition.

The following are commonly asked questions about muscle pain.

What can cause unexplained muscle pain in the arms and legs?

Unexplained muscle pain in the arms and legs may result from various factors, including injury or an underlying medical condition. A medical evaluation is necessary for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

What can cause unexplained muscle pain in the arms and legs at night?

Muscle pain in the arms and legs at night may occur for several reasons, including sore muscles from overexertion, poor blood circulation, cramping, or an underlying condition.

What are the different types of muscle pain?

Muscle pain can feel sharp or sore. A person may experience cramping, aching, or spasms. The type of muscle pain a person experiences will depend on the underlying cause.

Muscle pain can result from many conditions, including injuries, medical conditions, or inflammation. Typically, muscle pain resolves on its own, but persistent, sudden, or intense pain may require medical intervention.

A person experiencing muscle pain along with symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, vomiting, or weakness should see emergency medical treatment.