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Muscle pain (myalgia) can be a symptom of many different conditions. One of these is COVID-19, the illness that’s caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

How do you know if you’re experiencing muscle pain due to COVID-19 or another condition?

Keep reading below to learn how to tell if muscle pain is due to COVID-19, what other conditions that can lead to muscle pain, and when to see a doctor.

Muscle pain due to COVID-19 is believed to result from the effects of inflammatory molecules released by immune cells in response to the virus.

It’s also possible, but not yet confirmed, that the virus may directly infect muscle tissue.

There are some ways that you may be able to decide whether your symptoms are due to COVID-19 or something else. We’ll explore some of these in more detail below.

Other symptoms

Muscle pain isn’t one of the more common symptoms of COVID-19.

A report from early in the pandemic reviewed COVID-19 symptoms in 55,924 individuals and found that muscle pain happened in only 14.8 percent of people.

This prevalence is supported by two later systematic reviews that found that muscle pain was reported in between 16.9 percent and 17 percent of individuals with COVID-19.

So if your muscle pain is due to COVID-19, it’s more likely to occur with other more common COVID-19 symptoms. While COVID-19 symptoms can vary by individual, three of the most commonly reported symptoms are:

Other COVID-19 symptoms typically reported as often as or slightly less than muscle pain include:

Onset

Another way to determine if your muscle pain is due to COVID-19 is to evaluate when and how it started.

Symptoms of COVID-19 typically come on gradually, about 2 to 14 days after exposure to the novel coronavirus.

When muscle pain starts during a COVID-19 infection can vary by person. A 2020 study based on clinical data predicted that muscle pain may happen after fever and cough, but around the same time as a headache or a sore throat.

Other causes of muscle pain may have a different pattern of onset. Let’s look at a few specific examples to illustrate this:

  • Flu. Flu causes many of the same symptoms as COVID-19. But unlike COVID-19, flu symptoms often come on suddenly as opposed to gradually.
  • Muscle overuse or injury. This may be the cause if your muscle pain came on following exercise or an activity that requires repetitive motions.
  • Medications. Some medications, such as statins, can cause muscle pain as a side effect. This may be the cause if your symptoms coincide with the time you take a medication.
  • Inflammatory myopathies. Inflammatory myopathies are a rare potential cause of muscle pain. Symptoms often come on gradually, but continue to get worse as time passes.

Duration

The exact length of time that COVID-19 lasts can depend on a person’s overall health as well as the severity of their illness.

One study looked at the duration of symptoms in 270 people with COVID-19. While responses ranged between 5 and 12 days, 65 percent of them reported a return to their usual state of health in about 7 days.

If your symptoms last a week or so before going away, they may be due to COVID-19. Some symptoms, such as cough and loss of smell and taste, may take longer to resolve. Loss of smell and taste have sometimes been reported to linger for months.

It’s also important to note here that muscle pain is a potential symptom of long-haul COVID. These are symptoms that can last weeks or months after contracting COVID-19.

Long-haul COVID symptoms may persist after you’ve recovered from a shorter, acute episode of COVID-19 or appear in the weeks after illness.

It’s currently unknown what exactly causes long-haul COVID. Researchers are investigating to uncover these causes.

COVID-19 exposure

Another factor to consider is if you’ve had a potential exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This can happen if you were recently:

  • around someone with a confirmed COVID-19 infection
  • around a person with symptoms of COVID-19
  • in an area that was crowded or poorly ventilated

If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, get a COVID-19 test. Plan to stay home until you’ve received your result. That way, you can prevent spreading the virus to others if you are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

There are many other health conditions that can lead to muscle pain.

Other infections

In addition to COVID-19, many other infections can cause muscle pain. These may be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, including:

The specific symptoms of each of these can vary. In addition to muscle aches and pains, some general symptoms of an infection include:

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain throughout your body. In addition to muscle pain, people with fibromyalgia may have:

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that’s characterized by feelings of overwhelming fatigue.

Along with intense fatigue, people with CFS may also have muscle or joint pain. Other CFS symptoms include:

  • fatigue that gets worse with physical or mental exertion
  • trouble sleeping
  • problems with concentration and memory
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded upon standing
  • headaches
  • night sweats
  • muscle weakness
  • recurring sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • digestive problems like IBS
  • tender lymph nodes

Autoimmune conditions

An autoimmune condition happens when the cells of your immune system mistakenly attack healthy tissues in your body. Muscle pain can be a symptom of an autoimmune condition.

Some examples of autoimmune conditions that may cause muscle pain are:

Specific symptoms may vary by condition. Along with muscle or joint pain, some other symptoms of autoimmune conditions include:

Inflammatory myopathies

Inflammatory myopathies are rare conditions that lead to chronic inflammation of muscle tissue. Two examples of inflammatory myopathies are:

One of the main symptoms of inflammatory myopathy is progressive muscle weakness. Some individuals may also experience muscle pain.

Other possible symptoms may include:

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition that can cause pain and flu-like symptoms. The cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be due to an autoimmune condition. People with PMR may have:

Low thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism)

Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This can cause a variety of symptoms throughout the body, including muscle pain.

Other symptoms include:

Low calcium

It’s possible to have low levels of calcium in your blood. This is called hypocalcemia. Hypocalcemia can cause painful muscle cramping to occur.

Other symptoms can include:

In addition to underlying health conditions, there are also other causes of muscle pain. These are most often related to lifestyle factors, including:

  • Injuries. It’s possible to injure a muscle by straining or bruising. This can happen through things like falls, twists, or sudden blows.
  • Overuse. Overuse of a certain muscle group can also cause muscle pain. This often happens when you frequently do an activity that requires repetitive motions.
  • Exercise. You may experience temporary muscle pain after starting a new exercise regimen or changing your normal exercise routine. This pain typically eases as your muscles adjust to the new routine.
  • Posture. Having poor posture can place strain on certain muscles, leading to discomfort or pain. Some examples include hunching forward, slouching back in a chair, or leaning onto one leg.
  • Medications. Certain types of medications can cause muscle pain as a side effect. Some examples include:

Whether muscle pain is due to COVID-19 or not, see a doctor if you’re having muscle pain that:

  • is severe
  • doesn’t go away after several days of at-home care
  • begins to get worse even with treatment

If your muscle pain is due to COVID-19, seek immediate medical attention or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:

If you have or suspect that you have COVID-19, be sure to let medical staff know either prior to or upon your arrival at a medical facility.

Now let’s look at the different ways that you can treat muscle pain.

Muscle pain due to COVID-19

If you have COVID-19, you can help to ease muscle aches and pains by using over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as:

In addition to relieving muscle pain, these medications can also help with other COVID-19 symptoms like fever and headache.

Some other things that can help to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms include drinking enough fluids and getting plenty of rest.

Muscle pain due to other causes

The treatment for the many other causes of muscle pain depends on the cause itself. A doctor can recommend a treatment plan that’s appropriate for your condition.

Sometimes, muscle pain can also be eased using the same OTC medications mentioned above. In other cases, a prescription pain relief medication may be necessary.

Other things that may help with muscle pain include:

  • R.I.C.E. method for an area that’s injured or overused:
    • rest
    • ice
    • compression
    • elevation
  • gentle stretching or yoga
  • taking a warm bath
  • massage
  • acupuncture

There are a few ways that you can help to prevent both COVID-19 and muscle pain. Let’s discuss these now.

COVID-19

Here’s how you can help protect yourself from COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated. Three COVID-19 vaccines are currently authorized by the FDA. When you’re fully vaccinated, it’s safe to return to doing many of the things that you’d done prior to the pandemic.
  • Wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that fully vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19. Unvaccinated people should wear a mask in all indoor public spaces.
  • Practice physical distancing. Staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your household can prevent COVID-19. Those who have been fully vaccinated no longer need to practice physical distancing in public.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands frequently can prevent both COVID-19 as well as many other infectious diseases like the flu
  • Avoid certain spaces. Trying to stay away from large crowds or poorly ventilated spaces can help to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Muscle pain due to other causes

Here are some ways you can prevent muscle pain from other causes:

  • Warm up and cool down. Warming up and cooling down properly when you exercise can help reduce the risk of a muscle injury.
  • Ease into new exercise routines. Slowly easing into a new exercise routine can help your muscles adapt to new activities and movements, lowering your risk of muscle pain.
  • Stay hydrated. Keeping hydrated, particularly during heavy exercise, can help prevent muscle pain.
  • Use good posture. Poor posture can lead to muscle pain, so aim to improve your posture. Using ergonomic products can help.
  • Take medications as directed. If you take medications for a health condition that can cause muscle pain, be sure to take these as directed to help prevent pain from occurring.
  • See a doctor regularly. Many underlying health conditions can cause muscle pain. Seeing a doctor for regular checkups can help detect and treat these conditions early.

Muscle pain is a possible symptom of COVID-19, but can also happen due to many other causes.

Pay close attention to your other symptoms as well as their onset and duration to determine if your muscle pain is due to COVID-19. But remember that the only way to be sure is to get a COVID-19 test.

Often, muscle pain can be treated with OTC pain medications. In some cases, other treatments may be necessary. See a doctor if you have muscle pain that’s severe, persistent, or continues to get worse.