While body aches are usually harmless, it is helpful to understand what causes them and when to seek medical attention.
Body aches can vary in intensity and frequency. A person may describe them as sharp, intermittent pains or a dull but persistent ache.
People can often identify and treat body aches without seeing a doctor. Sometimes, however, they may need medical help.
Signs and symptoms
If body aches are due to a medical condition, a person may experience other symptoms as well. Recognizing other signs can help a person identify the cause and decide whether they should see a doctor.
Some common symptoms that occur alongside body aches are:
pain in a specific part of the body
shivers or changes in body temperature
cold and flu-like symptoms
Body aches may occur for many different reasons. Most are easily treatable and relatively harmless, but sometimes body aches can be due to more serious medical conditions.
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 may result from the way 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.
This can result in inflammation, 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.
When the body retains fluid, swelling and inflammation may develop, resulting in general muscular aches and pains. A person may also experience sharp, localized pains and cramps.
Conditions that can lead to fluid retention include:
thyroid problems, especially an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
congestive heart failure
cirrhosis of the liver
chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome
problems with lymphatic drainage
Each of these conditions needs specific treatment, but some home remedies can reduce the impact of water retention.
Learn more here about fluid retention, why it happens, and how to manage it.
Hypokalaemia 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.
Stress can cause tension in the body and can also weaken the immune system. This may make the muscles feel stiff, as well as affect the body’s response to inflammation and infection.
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
Scientists think there might be a two-way link between sleep and pain.
People who experience chronic pain often find it hard to sleep. At the same time, research has found that people with insomnia often experience chronic pain.
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 without treatment. 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 result from 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.
Various autoimmune disorders can cause body aches. These include:
Lupus: This occurs when a person’s immune system begins to attack healthy tissues, causing inflammation.
Myositis: This is an inflammation of the muscles. Other symptoms of myositis include fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.
Multiple sclerosis (MS): This 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.
A doctor will prescribe treatment for any underlying condition that causes body aches and pains, but a person can also try the following remedies to help alleviate the discomfort:
Resting: This allows the body time to repair and recuperate.
Drinking plenty of fluids: Staying hydrated can help ease achiness caused by dehydration.
Taking over-the-counter medications (OTC): Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce pain and inflammation.
Having a warm bath: The heat can help relax muscles and ease tension in the body.
Regulating temperature: This 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
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 that occur with a rash
body aches and pains 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
vomiting, particularly with a high temperature or fever
a stiff neck
changes in vision
extreme exhaustion that does not go away
sensitivity to light
weak muscles or inability to move part of the body
fainting or loss of consciousness
The doctor can help diagnose the cause of body aches and determine if treatment is necessary.
If a person experiences body aches for more than 2 weeks, and they do not know what is causing them, they should see a doctor regardless of whether any other symptoms occur.
Mild body aches that improve over time and ease with rest, rehydration, and OTC 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.