Every individual must have experienced sore limbs, stiff or painful to touch or on movements of limbs, sometime or the other. Muscular pains are a common problem, though the underlying causes may vary. Depending on the underlying cause, a person may have few episodes of pain, or it may last longer, affecting quality of life. Pain can be over one or more limbs or the back.
A bad working posture is the most common cause for muscular pains. Bending the neck or lower back continuously as for desk work or some cleaning work, tends to strain the joints of the backbone, as well as the muscles around them. This results in acute or chronic muscular pain and stiffness.
Overuse of the muscles also results in muscle cramps, pain and soreness on touch. Situations like walking/running a long distance to which one is not accustomed, writing continuously for a long time or working on a computer for long hours, can result in muscle cramps over hands or legs. Keeping the laptop over the lap is also known to cause muscle stiffness and pain over thigh and calf muscles. It can be due to mental stress as well. Bad posture during sleeping can give rise to muscular pains in the morning.
An underactive thyroid gland, infections like viral flu, bacterial infections affecting the muscles, connective tissue disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, cause muscular pain as one of the manifestations. Electrolyte imbalance due to any reason in the body, is also one of the reasons for muscular pains. Alcohol tends to dehydrate cells. It can cause and aggravate muscular pains. Drugs like statins (used to lower lipids in the blood) can cause muscle cramps as adverse effect. It can be due to reduced blood supply to the muscles as it happens with smoking or chronically high blood pressure. In such situations, pain occurs on walking or using the limb and is relieved by rest, what is known as intermittent claudication.
Best way to avoid muscle cramps is to adopt a correct working posture. One should avoid bending from the neck or back. Avoid stretching a limb. A hard bed and a thin pillow are better than a soft thick mattress and big pillow for sleeping. Whatever work one is doing, should be within comfortable reach of the limbs. If not habituated, a person should avoid long walks/runs, particularly in hot weather. If he/she has started walking/running recently, the distance should be increased gradually.
A healthy life style is very useful in preventing muscular pains. Diet rich in antioxidants like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, broccoli, carrots, and etcetera, helps to relieve muscle pain and soreness. It is also important to include healthy carbohydrates in the diet. Carbohydrates are essential because they stimulate the release of insulin, which helps in muscle building. Banana is very good in this regard, as it provides carbohydrates as well as potassium. However, one should avoid refined carbohydrates like sugar. Sugar tends to aggravate inflammation, the underlying mechanism for sore muscles. It is also important to avoid alcohol and tobacco, to avoid muscle pains.
Regular physical exercise is useful. But it should be within physical ability of a person. In case of muscle cramps affecting the legs, exercise should be avoided till the pain is reduced.
In case one is suffering from muscular pains, the affected part should be put to rest. Cold compresses are beneficial to soothe the pain. Pain relieving drugs and muscle relaxant drugs can be used, if the pain is severe.
If muscular pains are associated with high fever, vomiting, neck stiffness, one or more of these symptoms, one should consult a doctor to get the underlying infection treated. In case of chronic medical disorders causing muscle pains, treatment of the disorder cures the pain.
Dr Rachna Pande, Specialist, internal medicine