Body aches and pains: 11 tips when you hurt all over

What to do when your body aches all over

Body aches and pains are common.  When you hurt all over it can seem like the discomfort is coming from multiple groups of muscles, joints and deep in the bones. Body aches arise from the soft tissue of the body:

  • Muscles
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Fascia
  • Cartilage
  • Organs

Body aches and pain when you hurt all over can arise after physical activity or secondary to a larger health problem.Widespread body aches and pains are seldom severe, and usually of a deep dull quality. They are felt as a general aching sensation with stiffness in many joints or even throughout the body.  Occasionally when a person has done something to aggravate the problem in particular (extra heavy work, greater fatigue, additional stress and tension) the pain can escalate to a burning or stabbing sensation in isolated areas, but usually only temporarily.

When the body aches all over the exact symptoms  and treatment depends on the underlying cause.  Complaints may include widespread aches and tenderness to the touch over these areas, as well as muscle spasms. Whatever caused these generalized aches and pains may bring about specific joint pains, joint stiffness, neck pain, back pain, and difficulty sleeping.

Common situations and activities can all have an impact on the presence and severity of these symptoms making a person hurt all over:

  • Long automobile trip.
  • Heavy lifting, snow shoveling, or prolonged housecleaning.
  • High heat and humidity of the summer.
  • Rapid alteration of the barometric pressure when a storm front passes through.
  • Unusual emotional stress or worry, as well as depression.

What causes body aches?

The most common physical causes are also the most easily treated:

  • Repeated or multiple injury or trauma including bruising and strains
  • Overuse and overwork – using and abusing a large area of the body too much,  too often, or too soon after exercise, prior injury or use
  • Tension or stress

These situations that cause a person to hurt all over are usually easy to identify.  Correction is as easy and straightforward as being sure to rest, use ice, stretch and massage where it hurts, and take NSAIDs as needed. In these cases, the aches and pains tend to start during or just after the activity, and involve specific areas that were abused.

To prevent recurrence of whole body achiness when it is caused by excessive physical activity or exercise:

  • Get in and stay in shape so the body will respond well to physical activity
  • Warm up before exercising and cool down afterward.
  • Stretch before and after exercising.
  • Drink lots of fluids before, during, and after exercise.
  • If you work in the same position most of the day (like sitting at a computer), stretch at least every hour.

However, there are other reasons why widespread body ache arises as a symptom of a potentially more serious condition.

General body aches not related to physical activity

Whole body aches that appear without a good reason – you wake up one more and feel like you were hit by a truck – can be a sign that the body is dealing with a body-wide or systemic health problem.  When the discomfort appears to be not related to physical causes, it can be due to a widespread immune response to an infection or major health problem.  These larger problems need to be addressed first since they can be the primary cause of general body aches in order for the discomfort and pain to stop.

For example, a widespread body ache may be the result of:

  • Anemia – reduced oxygen to the muscles and joints causes pain especially during exertion
  • Dermatomyositis – possibly due to viral infection of muscles or weak immune system that allows multiple sites of infection to arise, giving pain throughout the body, along with a reddish-purple rash.
  • Drugs
    • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure – known for serious side effects that may require medical attention: chills, breathing difficulties, headaches,  pain in the abdomen, pain in the chest, etc.
    • Cocaine – recreational use can cause pain throughout the body that lasts for days
    • Statins to lower blood cholesterol – most common statin side effect is muscle pain that is felt as deep soreness, weakness or easy fatigue of the involved muscles
  • Electrolyte imbalances –  often due to prolonged fever, diarrhea or exertion resulting in loss of  potassium or calcium minerals without adequate resupply to body
  • Fibromyalgia – condition of unknown cause that includes tenderness in the joints and muscles and surrounding soft tissue, sleep difficulties, fatigue, and headaches.
  • Infections, including:
    • Influenza (flu)
    • Lyme disease
    • Malaria
    • Muscle abscess
    • Polio
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
    • Trichinosis (roundworm)
  • Lupus (SLE) – pain and stiffness are primary symptoms of lupus, affecting widespread area: hands, wrists, feet, ankles, shoulders, knees and chest, often causing cartilage destruction and permanent deformity.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) – an inflammatory disease of unknown origin causes stiffness and pain in muscles of the neck, shoulders, back and hips, appearing almost overnight in many cases with no relief, often disappearing suddenly on its own in a year or two.
  • Polymyositis – similar to dermatomyositis in which you hurt all over,but without the skin rash
  • Rhabdomyolysis – is a condition in which skeletal muscles break down quickly after massive injury (crush injury, being hit by lightening, severe burns, weight lifting) and spill their contents into the blood stream, possibly resulting in kidney failure and a variety of other serious medical consequences and complications.

Treatment of body aches

After muscle overuse or injury rest the affected body part, take a NSAID of choice (aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen)  and apply ice for the first 24-72 hours to reduce pain and inflammation. After the acute pain subsides and movement is less painful, apply moist heat to the area of complaint.  A good way to diffuse general body pains that are more chronic and recurring in nature is to take a long hot bath in water in which a few cups of Epsom salts have been added.

If you suspect your body and pains are due to stress, do your best to get plenty of sleep and try to reduce or eliminate the cause of your stress.  Meditation, deep breathing, yoga and simple daydreaming are excellent methods to unwind and sleep better.

Aches and pains can also be felt throughout the body as a result of depression. Depression is the feeling of overwhelming sadness or loss of interest in things around you that were once important. .

When depressed, a person can experience many of these common feelings and situations, as well as others:

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Extreme fatigue and loss of energy.
  • Feeling worthless.
  • Familiar situations that suddenly feel hopeless and overwhelming.
  • Changes in body weight.
  • Thoughts of suicide.
  • Feeling isolated, alone and misunderstood.
  • Whole body aches and feeling too weak and overwhelmed try to move.

Depression is common between the ages of 15-30, and much more common in women. Medications can be used to artificially raise the chemical levels of particular neurotransmitters in the brain to help manage these symptoms.

If your severe body ache is due to a specific disease you must follow the recommendations and treatment prescribed by your doctor to eliminate the cause of the primary illness behind the pain.

If home measures are not helping to control the body aches your health care provider may prescribe stronger pain medication or refer you for a series of physical therapy session or even a specialized pain clinic.

Body aches and chills

There are over 90 serious health problems in which a person can experience body aches or generalized pain along with chills or at least sensitivity to cold.  Because many of these problems require medical care, the best advice if you have body aches and chills is to promptly go to your family doctor for an evaluation to determine the cause of your complaints.

Just a partial list of those conditions which cause severe body aches and chills:

  • Lyme disease.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosis).
  • Histoplasmosis.
  • Myasthenia gravis.
  • Sarcoidosis.
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Mononucleosis.
  • Hyperthyroidism.
  • Hypothyroidism (adult).
  • Medication reaction or side-effect.
  • Acute sinusitis.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Diabetes, type 2.
  • Diabetes, type 1.
  • Depression.
  • Influenza (flu).
  • West Nile virus.
  • Bird (avian) flu.
  • Dehydration (children).
  • Chronic sinusitis.
  • Abscess.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • Porphyria.
  • Rectal cancer.
  • Lung cancer (small cell).
  • Small intestine cancer.
  • Lung cancer (non small cell).
  • Renal cell (kidney) cancer.
  • Throat cancer.
  • Pre-leukemia (myelodysplastic syndrome).
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Congestive heart failure.
  • Aortic regurgitation.
  • Supraventricular tachycardia.
  • Heart rhythm disorder.
  • Atrial fibrillation.
  • Emphysema.
  • Glomerulonephritis.
  • Hepatitis A.
  • Hepatitis B.
  • Hepatitis C.
  • Pulmonary hypertension.
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding.
  • Hyperparathyroidism.
  • Hypopituitarism.
  • Typhoid fever.
  • Cocaine withdrawal.
  • Toxic shock syndrome.
  • Lead poisoning.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Radiation sickness.
  • Ricin poisoning.
  • Radon exposure.
  • Iron poisoning.

Body aches no fever

Typically when a person experiences body aches no fever and no other symptoms, the problem is likely due to overwork and physical exhaustion.  The treatment is to simply rest, push fluids, get a massage to ease the ache and wait it out.

If additional symptoms occur later, such as a cough, nasal or respiratory congestion, chest pain, or shortness of breath, and still no fever occurs then the chances are that a viral flu has developed and no antibiotic or medication will hasten recovery.  It would be best to give the body time to recover with rest, fluids, reduced physical exertion, and perhaps a decongestant that would control some of the respiratory complaints.  If after 48 hours the condition has not improved, then call your doctor for additional help and an office visit to check into the problem a bit deeper.

When to call your doctor for help with body aches

If you have followed all the reasonable and conservative course of self-care for your body aches, call to see your doctor if:

  • Muscle and joint ache lasts longer than 72 hours.
  • You experience sudden and severe pain that cannot be explained by your activity.
  • You notice signs of infection
    • Redness of the skin over the area of pain.
    • Swelling appears at or near the area of pain.
    • Heat appears at or near the area of pain.
  • You notice signs of poor circulation
    • Coldness of the skin at or near the area of pain
    • Blueness of the skin at or near the area of pain
    • Achiness increases after using the body part
  • You notice signs of a tick bite (“bull’s eye” appearance) or a rash with or without itching at or near the area of pain
  • You remember that your body aches started when you began or changed a new medicine, especially:
    • Statin drugs to lower cholesterol
    • ACE inhibitors to reduce blood pressure