Sometimes, when you begin experiencing a new symptom, it’s relatively easy to self-diagnose the problem; if you start to get the sniffles or a sore throat, for example, you might have caught a cold. Or if you have an upset stomach after eating an exotic new food, you probably know what’s going on. But some symptoms, like body aches and muscle pain, can sneak up on you without any obvious explanation. Indeed, body aches and soreness can be symptoms of many different conditions, and it can be hard to know for sure the source of those aches.
Potential Causes of Body Aches
Having body aches is a fairly common occurrence even among different demographics groups, and there are a lot of different reasons that can explain why you might be feeling them. Where the aches are found in the body—either localized or all over—or how long they have lasted can both sometimes be useful in determining the cause. Below, in approximate order of likelihood, are some of these possible causes:
- Injury: Perhaps the most obvious culprit, physical injury is very often a cause of aches and pains in the direct area of the injury as well as sometimes elsewhere on the body. This can include everything from falling after slipping to overexerting yourself during an intense workout. Sometimes these kinds of aches aren’t immediately present, so you may not remember what exactly you did to yourself when you wake up in pain the next morning.
- Flu: Body aches are one of the common symptoms associated with the influenza virus, though they aren’t always a factor. The body aches felt with the flu are from the inflammatory immune response triggered when the immune system detects the flu virus in the body. The common cold can also occasionally result in body aches.
- Stress: Though it may not seem like an obvious connection, psychological stress can also be a source of body aches. These physical manifestations of psychological or emotional stress are due to biochemical substance called cortisol. Cortisol is a type of hormone that the brain releases (in addition to adrenaline) when a threat or danger is perceived. Normally these chemicals serve their function and then return to normal levels, but during times when the stressors themselves don’t go away, cortisol remains high in the system and can cause a whole host of problems, including body aches.
- Dehydration: Water is obviously an absolute necessity for normal bodily functions, so when you’re dehydrated, a number of detrimental effects can be felt. One of the most common aches is headaches; dehydration can actually cause brain tissue to shrink slightly and pull away from the skull, causing pain.
- Lack of Sleep: Sleeping is such an important activity because it’s the body’s daily chance to rest and repair itself. Having a lack of sufficient sleep can lead to a variety of different health concerns, including body aches. While the specific mechanism that leads to aches and pains is still unclear, research suggests that “non-restorative” sleep (more so than a simple lack of sleep) is the biggest factor of body aches related to sleep.
- Anemia: Anemia is a medical condition defined by the body not having sufficient quantities of normally functioning red blood cells. Red blood cells are primarily responsible for distributing oxygen to cells throughout the body, so when there is a general reduction in their number, the whole body begins to feel slight oxygen deprivation. This lack of oxygen can lead to overall body aches as cells don’t have enough oxygen to operate normally.
- Hypocalcemia: Vitamin D deficiency is one of the main causes of hypocalcemia, the term for having too little calcium in the blood. The body’s cells rely on calcium for normal function, and, similar to anemia, aches and pains can be felt all over the body when not enough calcium is present.
- Mononucleosis: Popularly known as simply “mono” (or sometimes the kissing disease), mononucleosis is the disease that results from an infection of the Epstein-Barr virus. Most common in teenagers, mono can affect bone marrow and blood. One of the reasons body aches are a symptom is because of an overabundance of white blood cells due to the immune response; too many white blood cells in the bloodstream causes widespread inflammation that presents as body aches.
- Pneumonia: In terms of a cause of body aches, pneumonia is somewhat similar to other conditions on this list. Pneumonia is generally caused by either a bacterial or viral infection, and it involves inflammation of the small air sacs found in the lungs. Because of the inflammation, breathing is more difficult and less oxygen is able to be sent around the body by the red blood cells and body aches can result.
- Arthritis: Arthritis is the general term for any condition that affects joints around the body. Often a function of aging, people can develop arthritis through a loss of joint cartilage or sometimes infection. Though there can be a lot of temporary reasons for joint pain, arthritis is typically chronic and develops over time.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is unknown, but is characterized by exhaustion, weakness, and sometimes sleep problems. The combination of these other symptoms also can cause body aches in much the same way as a lack of restorative sleep.
- Fibromyalgia: While relatively rare, fibromyalgia is a challenging condition that affects the entire body. The underlying cause is still unknown, but the symptoms include widespread chronic pain as well as an overall increased sensitivity to pain and pressure.
- Lupus: Perhaps even more rare and less understood than fibromyalgia is lupus. Technically known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus is a condition in which the immune system abnormally attacks healthy organs and tissues throughout the body. One of the reasons the disease is so mysterious is because of how much variance there is between people in terms of symptoms. However, an almost universal symptom of lupus is various aches and pains.
- Lyme Disease: If you have developed body aches after recently traipsing through a meadow or camping out in the woods, it’s possible that you have Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia bacterium, and it is spread primarily through insects called ticks. Beyond the rash and pain at the site of the tick bite, symptoms also can include headaches and joint pain.
The treatment options for having body aches is naturally dependent on the underlying cause and what kind of aches you’re experiencing. For most routine aches, over-the-counter medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ibuprofen, or acetaminophen are useful for taking the edge off until the body naturally heals. For some of the rarer and more involved conditions noted above, a doctor’s input is crucial. Generally, though, home remedies like drinking plenty of fluids, making sure you get enough sleep, and relaxation techniques can all be beneficial when trying to ease aches and pains.
When to See a Doctor
The truth is that body aches can be a symptom of a lot of different conditions, so you can’t always rely on a self-diagnosis. Body aches and muscle aches can even be a symptom of COVID-19, the devastating pandemic we’re all currently dealing with. If you just have some mild aches, you can confidently treat them yourself with over-the-counter pain relievers, but if these aches are combined with shortness of breath, seizures, a bad cough, or any other concerning symptoms, you should contact a doctor soon.
Finding a doctor or health care provider can be stressful, especially when you’re already worried about whatever ails you. At TrustCare, we go out of our way to make sure you have multiple options for getting quality healthcare. Stop by one of our convenient urgent care locations to Feel Better Faster.