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Muscle pain: triggers and what to do about it!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 461 views

Muscle pain can occur suddenly or become chronic. In most cases, harmless tension, strains or injuries are behind it, which heal by themselves. Poor posture and overuse are often the cause of chronic muscle tension. Sometimes muscle pain is also an accompanying symptom of serious diseases of the muscles themselves, the nervous system, the skeleton or other organs. Read everything you need to know about the causes and treatment of muscle pain here.

quick overview

  • Description: stabbing, cramping, pulling, burning or pressing pain in the muscles. The back, shoulder or neck area is usually affected. Muscle pain can be acute or chronic.
  • Causes: Incorrect loading, injuries, overexertion, infectious diseases, diseases of the muscles, the skeleton, the immune system, the nervous system or other organs, medicines, drugs, alcohol.
  • When to the doctor? For inexplicable, long-lasting muscle pain (longer than two weeks) and when a muscle fiber or muscle tear is suspected.
  • Diagnostics: Collection of the medical history in the first consultation (anamnesis), physical examination, blood tests, electromyography, ultrasound , if necessary computer tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), muscle biopsy.
  • Treatment: In the case of acute muscle pain, rest the affected muscles, cool them. For chronic muscle pain, for example, heat, gentle exercise (such as yoga), stress reduction, massage, physiotherapy , electrotherapy , acupuncture, acupressure, neural therapy or psychotherapy . In the case of a muscle fiber or muscle tear, a protective bandage to reduce swelling, surgery if necessary.
  • Prevention: e.g. healthy nutrition with sufficient magnesium (prevention of muscle cramps), lots of exercise, warming up and stretching before sport, regular relaxation, ergonomically designed workplace

Muscle pain: description

Muscle pain (myalgia) can feel stabbing, cramping or pulling, sometimes burning or oppressive. They can basically affect any of the 650 muscles in the body. Muscle pain is most common in the neck, shoulders or back. The symptoms can spread or be limited to one spot, appear suddenly and severely ( acute ) and disappear again, or develop into a chronic condition .

Muscle pain: causes

Muscle pain often occurs as a result of improper strain or injury or overexertion. But they can also be related to infectious diseases such as influenza . Only rarely are other diseases (e.g. of the immune system, skeleton or nervous system) behind it. Some medications can also trigger muscle pain.

muscle injuries

In addition to the classic sore muscles , the pain can also be triggered by other, more serious muscle injuries. These include muscle bruises and strains as well as muscle fiber or complete muscle tears. These injuries often occur during sports, when muscles are suddenly tightened without being warmed up first. Sports with fast start and stop movements such as tennis, football and weight training are particularly dangerous. Kicks and punches can also lead to muscle injuries.

muscle strain or bruise is manifested by pressure and movement pain. A muscle fiber or muscle tear is accompanied by stabbing pain and the formation of a bruise on the affected area. Complete muscle tears can often be felt from the outside based on the typical dent in the tissue.

muscle cramps

Muscle cramps can come on suddenly and go away, or they can be permanent to the sufferer. Muscle cramps in the calves are particularly common. They can turn into sore muscles or calf pain.

Muscle cramps are usually due to a magnesium deficiency, which in turn can be caused by physical exertion during sport. Because the body loses a lot of magnesium through heavy sweating during sport. The cause of muscle cramps can also be diseases, for example of the liver.

muscle tension

Lack of exercise and poor posture are other common causes of muscle pain. For example, those who repeatedly sit in front of the computer or in the car for a long time can develop muscle tension. Certain movements, weak muscles and mental stress can also lead to tension.

Simple tension begins with pulling, mostly localized pain, mainly in the shoulders, neck or back. The affected muscles are hard and sensitive to pressure. Complaints occur with movement and also at rest. Later, the pain can radiate down the shoulders and into the arms.

muscle diseases

In muscle diseases, a distinction is made between inflammatory (myositis) and non-inflammatory forms.

Inflammatory muscle diseases

Possible causes of inflammatory muscle diseases are:

  • Pathogens ( viruses , bacteria, parasites) such as in Bornholm disease, leprosy, tetanus, syphilis
  • Autoimmune diseases such as polymyositis (one of the rheumatic diseases)

Many muscle inflammations are accompanied by muscle weakness (myasthenia). The muscles then tire very quickly and can no longer develop their full strength.

Non-inflammatory muscle diseases

They can be metabolic or hormone-related, for example. One possible trigger is an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Other important non-inflammatory muscle diseases are fibromyalgia (pain syndrome that affects the entire musculature) and muscular dystrophy (hereditary disease that leads to muscle weakness and wasting).

Diseases of the central nervous system

The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord. Some diseases of these structures can also be associated with muscle pain. Examples are:

Diseases of the skeleton and other organs

Back pain, herniated discs and lumbago as well as damage to the cervical spine sometimes trigger pain that the affected person misinterprets as muscle pain. The same applies to osteoporosis (bone loss), arthrosis (joint wear) and Bechterew’s disease. The latter is an inflammatory rheumatic disease of the spine and joints.

drugs and toxins

Medications and pollutants can also lead to muscle pain. For example, statins, which are often used to lower cholesterol, cause muscle pain in many patients, which becomes worse with physical activity. This is probably due to a disrupted energy metabolism in the muscle cells. Antibiotics from the penicillin group can also cause muscle pain, muscle cramps and muscle weakness.

But not only medicines, but also drugs often have a negative effect on the muscles. For example, alcohol and heroin can attack muscle tissue, causing permanent muscle disease, which in turn is associated with muscle pain.

Muscle pain: when do you need to see a doctor?

In most cases, muscle pain (such as soreness, strains, or cramps) is harmless and can be treated on your own. They usually heal without leaving any permanent damage. Muscle fiber tears also disappear by themselves if the muscles are sufficiently spared. If you don’t do this, however, there is a risk of scarring and permanent functional restrictions.

In the following cases of muscle pain, however, a doctor’s visit is advisable:

  • for muscle tension (easily treatable in the early stages, but it can become chronic if you wait too long)
  • for muscle pain of unknown origin
  • muscle pain that lasts for a long time (several weeks).

If you suspect a muscle fiber or muscle tear, you should see a doctor immediately to find out how far the muscle is torn and whether more intensive medical treatment may be needed.

Muscle pain: what does the doctor do?

The doctor will first talk to you about your medical history (anamnesis). Information from this and the results of various examinations help to find out the cause of the muscle pain. The doctor can then suggest a suitable treatment.


First of all, your medical history is the focus. The doctor will ask you various questions about this, for example:

  • How long have you had muscle pain?
  • Where exactly does it hurt?
  • How does the pain feel (eg, cramping or burning)?
  • How bad is the muscle pain?
  • Did the muscle pain come on gradually or suddenly?
  • When is the muscle pain worse, at rest or with exertion?
  • Is the pain constant or just intermittent?
  • Do you observe accompanying symptoms such as muscle weakness or movement disorders?
  • What previous or current illnesses do you have?
  • Do you regularly take medication, do you regularly consume alcohol or drugs?

The anamnesis can already provide important information about the cause of the muscle pain. For example, if the pain occurs acutely, it is usually due to muscle injuries or cramps. Movement disorders, on the other hand, can indicate a disease of the nervous system.

Studies in muscle pain

  • Physical examination : If the doctor finds painful pressure points on the muscles, for example, this indicates non-inflammatory muscle diseases. A purple-red facial skin indicates a muscle inflammation in which the skin is involved ( dermatomyositis ). The doctor checks the function of the nervous system by testing reflexes and assessing the movement sequences and gait pattern of the patient.
  • Blood tests : Certain changes in liver values ​​indicate chronic alcohol abuse. Differential blood count , blood sedimentation rate and CRP value can indicate infections or autoimmune processes as the cause of muscle pain.
  • Electrophysiological examinations : The doctor measures electrical muscle activity using electromyography (EMG). It can indicate inflammatory or degenerative muscle diseases and damage to nerve cells.
  • Ultrasound examination : With the ultrasound examination of the muscles (muscle sonography), the entire muscle can be visualized. The method can be helpful, for example, if muscle inflammation is suspected.
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) : These imaging tests are better than ultrasound for large and deep muscles.
  • Muscle biopsy : A sample of tissue is taken from the muscle for more detailed examination in the laboratory. However, such an invasive procedure is only carried out if it is absolutely necessary, for example if a muscle disease is suspected.

therapy for muscle pain

Therapy for muscle pain depends on the cause. If, for example, an illness is responsible for the muscle pain, the doctor will treat it. If the pain in the muscles occurs as a side effect of certain medications such as statins or penicillin , these may have to be discontinued (in consultation with the doctor!).

In addition to this causal treatment, the doctor may prescribe a pain reliever to relieve muscle pain. This can be a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac in tablet form or as an ointment.

In addition, the treatment is based on whether the muscle pain is acute or chronic.

What helps with acute muscle pain?

Immediate measures in the event of a muscle injury

If you injure yourself while playing sports or any other physical activity, you should immediately comply with the following measures:

Stop: If you injure the muscle, you should stop the activity immediately!

Rest : Injured muscles need time to heal. So you should take it easy on them for a while. Otherwise, the muscle tissue can scar. Sometimes there can even be permanent connective tissue remodeling in the muscle tissue, making the muscle less flexible in the long term.

Cold: Cool the affected muscle with an ice pack, for example, or wrap crushed ice cubes in a towel and place this ice pack on the affected area for around 15 minutes.

Elevate: If you suspect a muscle fiber or muscle tear, you should not only cool the affected area immediately, but also elevate it. This counteracts swelling of the injured tissue.

Treatment of acute muscle pain

The following treatment options are available for acute muscle pain:

Rest : Muscle pain is mostly caused by harmless muscle injuries. With sufficient rest and protection, the affected muscles can heal.

Bandage : In the case of a muscle fiber or muscle tear, the doctor can apply a decongestant and protective bandage.

Surgery : For larger muscle tears, the doctor may need to stitch the tear.

What helps against chronic muscle pain?

There are also various treatment options available for chronic muscle pain. The treatment that is suitable for each individual case always depends on the cause of the symptoms.

  • massages
  • Physiotherapy (e.g. in the case of painful shoulder-neck syndrome, especially back training or training of the neck muscles)
  • electrotherapy
  • acupuncture
  • acupressure
  • neural therapy
  • Psychotherapy for psychological causes of muscle pain

What you can do yourself against chronic muscle pain:

  • Regular gentle exercise : for example walking or swimming
  • Relaxation training: Try autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation, for example.
  • Avoiding stress : Regular breaks in everyday work and relaxation training (as mentioned above) help to avoid or at least reduce stress.
  • Self -massage : You can often gently massage painfully tense muscles yourself (e.g. in the neck area).
  • Ergonomic workplace : Make sure you have an ergonomic workplace to avoid incorrect posture and tension.
  • No drafts: If you have muscle pain, avoid drafts, especially on bare skin.

Home remedies for muscle pain

There are several gentle remedies for muscle pain that you can try at home on your own.


Heat can often relieve painful muscle tension. This simple home remedy can be used in a number of ways:

Warm seed pillow (cherry stone pillow) : Heat according to manufacturer’s instructions and place on sore muscles. Leave on for as long as the heat is comfortable. Repeat several times a day if necessary.

Hot water bottle : Fill a hot water bottle with hot water and place it on the muscle. Leave on for as long as the heat is comfortable.

Hot bath : A warm bath can relieve the tension, especially when several muscle parts hurt. Lavender or lemon balm oil in the bath water promotes the relaxing effect. For a better distribution in the water, mix the essential oil with an emulsifier (e.g. cream, milk, honey, salt), then add to the running bath water.

The bathing temperature should not exceed the measured body temperature. Bathe for ten to 20 minutes, dry off and rest in the preheated bed for at least half an hour. You can bathe once a day.

wraps and compresses

Warm wraps and compresses also help against aching muscles.

Beeswax compress : A cloth compress coated with beeswax can store and release heat for a long time. It relieves pain and also has an expectorant effect. You can get the compresses in the pharmacy or in the health food store.

Place the desired size compress in a plastic bag and heat with a hair dryer or on a hot water bottle until the wax is pliable. Place the compress without foil on the appropriate skin area, cover with a cloth and fix. Leave on for 20 minutes to several hours. Do the procedure once or twice a day.

Beeswax compresses are environmentally friendly because they are reusable.

Potato wrap: The warmth of a potato wrap (or potato pad) has a relaxing, pain-relieving effect and promotes blood circulation. Read here [https://www.netdoktor.de/hausmittel/kartoffelwickel/] how to use a potato wrap correctly.

Flaxseed Compress : A warm flaxseed compress also relieves tension and is a good remedy for muscle pain. To do this, swell three tablespoons of ground flaxseeds in 300 to 500 milliliters of water in a saucepan at low temperature until a tough porridge forms.

Put the hot porridge on a gauze compress, fold into a packet and wrap with a tea towel. Place the compress on the aching muscles, cover with a cloth and hold in place. Leave on for at least half an hour and then rest for 30 to 60 minutes. Apply once a day.

Ginger wrap : A ginger wrap relaxes stressed muscles and relieves pain. To do this, mix one to two teaspoons of freshly ground ginger powder in a little water. Allow the mixture to swell briefly and stir it into 500 to 750 milliliters of hot water (about 75 degrees).

Roll up a cotton towel from both sides to the middle. Place this roll lengthwise in a tea towel and roll up the towel as well. Place the wrap in the water with the ends sticking out.

Let the wrap pull through, wring it out and apply it tightly to the aching muscle. Cover and fix with two towels. Remove after 15 to 30 minutes and rest afterwards.

You can read more information about the effects of ginger in the medicinal plant text.

Remove warm wraps and compresses immediately if the heat is uncomfortable. People with heart disease and neurological conditions should consult their doctor before use.

You can find more information about wraps, envelopes and overlays and their use here .

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

Prevent muscle pain: You can do that!

With a healthy lifestyle, you can actively do something to prevent muscle pain from arising in the first place. Important tips for prevention are:

  • Movement
  • regular relaxation
  • Magnesium: The trace element prevents muscle cramps. Good sources of magnesium are whole grain products, soybeans, potatoes, berries, oranges, bananas, poultry and fish.
  • Warm up and stretch before exercise
  • Do not overstrain your muscles and slowly get used to new loads

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