Muscle and joint pain can happen to anyone of any age, from the avid athlete who overstretched a muscle at the gym, to the coach potato who fell asleep in an awkward position. Muscle pain is caused with damage to your muscle fibres. Most people experience muscle pains due to due to stress, overstraining, or poor posture during a physical activity. Joint pain, on the other hand, is related to injury to tendons, ligaments or cartilage.
Signs & Symptoms
The main sign of muscle and joint pain is, well, pain. The pain could be sharp, or a dull throb. Sometimes, swelling is visible in the affected area. For most people, these symptoms will go off with proper rest and care.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Do not hesitate to seek professional help if:
- Your pain lasts for a week.
- You suspect it is due to a medication.
- Your pain is severe and you do not know what is causing it.
- You are having shortness of breath.
- You are unable to move the affected area, or experience a loss of sensation.
- Signs of infection set in, such as warmth, swelling and worsening pain.
- It is related to an insect or animal bite.
- Infections like cold and flu
- Injuries related to exercise or accidents
- Medications, especially cholesterol medication
- Underlying conditions such as hypothyroidism, a condition in which your body does not make enough thyroid hormones to help regulate your body’s activities
A useful acronym to remember would be “RICER”, which stands for
R – Rest the affected area.
I – Ice the area to bring down swelling. Always make sure there is a cloth in between the ice pack and your skin or it might be too cold. You can do this for about 10 minutes each time, 3-4 times a day.
C – Compress the area with a guard or bandage.
E – Elevate the affected area if possible.
R – Refer yourself to a physician if the pain does not go off within a week, or you suspect that the injury is getting worse.
Warm up before starting any physical activity. Start each workout slowly and increase the intensity gradually. Remember to cool down after exercise.
Paracetamol and Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can help with your pain, although NSAIDs are able to reduce inflammation better, and hence might be more useful injuries with more severe pain and swelling.
Muscle rubs containing menthol, turpentine, capsaicin and methyl salicylate are known as counterirritants. These ingredients work by creating an alternate sensation which helps to mask your pain. However, do not apply too much of these rubs as they can cause skin irritation and burning. Other muscle rubs contain NSAIDs, such as diclofenac and ketoprofen.
Prescription medications that can help include the selective COX-II Inhibitors (or Coxibs) and muscle relaxants like orphenadrine. In severe cases, your doctor might prescribe you opioids if he or she deems it appropriate.