What causes muscle pain?

Skeletal muscle pain is most often caused by injury or trauma resulting in muscle strain or tear. A muscle strain occurs when a few muscle fibers are damaged, whereas a muscle tear is a large number of muscle fibers that are ripped apart or torn.

A torn tendon can also lead to muscle pain. Muscles and tendons are capable of repairing themselves when they are injured. However, in some cases, the muscle or tendon tear can be so severe that surgery is required to repair the damage. Muscle aches and pains can also be caused by cramping due to excessive or abnormal nerve impulses that make the muscles contract inappropriately.

Hundreds of different diseases, disorders and conditions can cause muscles aches and pains, such as inflammatory syndromes, malignancy, trauma, and infection. Some of these disorders are serious and possibly disabling, such as fibromyalgia and lupus. In some cases, muscle aches and pains may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack, meningitis, or cancer.

Traumatic causes of muscle pain

Muscle pain can be due to any kind of injury or trauma including:

  • Blunt force trauma
  • Muscle strain, pull or tear
  • Overuse or repetitive motion
  • Pinched nerve (nerve compression)

Neuromuscular diseases, disorders and conditions

A number of conditions that affect the muscles or nerves can produce muscle pain. These include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease; a severe neuromuscular disease that causes muscle weakness and disability)
  • Brain or spinal cord injury
  • Dermatomyositis (condition characterized by muscle inflammation and skin rash)
  • Lyme disease (inflammatory bacterial disease spread by ticks)
  • Multiple sclerosis (disease that affects the brain and spinal cord causing weakness, lack of coordination, balance difficulties, and other problems)
  • Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis)
  • Muscle infection such as an abscess
  • Parkinson’s disease (brain disorder that impairs movement and coordination)
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (disease characterized by muscle pain and stiffness)
  • Polymyositis (widespread inflammation and weakness of muscles)
  • Stroke

Other possible causes of muscle pain

Muscle pain can be caused by a variety of other diseases, disorders and conditions including:

  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Influenza (flu) or other infection
  • Kidney failure
  • Poor circulation (inadequate bloodflow/oxygen to muscle leading to ischemia)
  • Potassium or calcium (electrolyte) imbalance
  • Pregnancy
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)
  • Vitamin B12 or D deficiency

Medications and substances that cause muscle pain

Medications that can cause muscle aches and pain include:

  • Alcohol
  • ACE inhibitors for lowering blood pressure
  • Cocaine
  • Statins for lowering cholesterol
  • Zidovudine

Questions for diagnosing the cause of muscle pain

To help diagnose the underlying cause of muscle pain your licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the underlying cause of your symptoms. Questions during your examination generally include:

  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as a sore throat or fever?
  • Do you feel pain in one particular area or all over?
  • How long have you had the condition?
  • What body parts are affected?
  • What makes the pain better or worse?
  • What other medications, if any, are you currently taking?

What are the potential complications of muscle pain?

Complications associated with muscle pain depend on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, muscle pain resulting from fibromyalgia or a degenerative condition, such as lupus, can lead to inactivity and its associated complications. Fortunately, many skeletal muscle pain conditions can often be alleviated or minimized by physical therapy, basic self-help measures, and following the treatment plan outlined by your doctor. However, with time, muscle pain and the underlying cause can lead to complications including:

  • Chronic pain
  • Immobility and its associated complications (such as bed sores and blood clots)
  • Intractable pain that does not respond to treatment
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Muscle contracture
  • Permanent muscle or nerve damage (due to a pinched nerve) including paralysis
  • Poor quality of life


  1. Muscles. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/muscles/htm/index.htm
  2. Muscle Aches. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003178.htm.
  3. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.

What is muscle pain?

Muscle pain, also called myalgia, refers to pain or discomfort in any muscle of the body.... Read more about muscle painintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with muscle pain?

Muscle pain may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, muscle pain that is caused by an injury may be accompanied by bruising and swelling of the area. Additional symptoms that may occur with muscle pain include:

  • Depression Read more about muscle painsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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