Body Aches: Possible Causes and When to See a Doctor

Medically Reviewed By Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP

There are many different causes of body aches. It can result from a muscle or bone injury or infection. Chronic conditions and some medications can cause body aches. In rare cases, it may be due to a serious condition such as cancer. When body aches are in just one area, they may originate from the musculoskeletal system. Full-body aches, on the other hand, are more likely to indicate an underlying condition.

This article looks at the causes of body aches in more detail. It also discusses when to contact a doctor, treatment options, and more.

Musculoskeletal conditions

Man bent over doing woodworking
Guille Faingold/Stocksy United

Approximately 1.71 billion people worldwide Trusted Source World Health Organization Highly respected international organization Go to source have musculoskeletal problems, according to the World Health Organization.

Possible musculoskeletal causes of body aches include:

Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune conditions can cause body aches. They occur when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body.

There are more than 80 types of autoimmune conditions. Examples include Trusted Source National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Governmental authority Go to source :

Learn more about autoimmune conditions.

Infections

Bacterial and viral infections can cause Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source body aches.

Examples of infections include:

Learn more about infections.

Blood flow problems

Conditions where there is reduced blood flow, such as peripheral vascular disease, can cause body aches.

Symptoms of blood flow or circulation problems can include:

  • intermittent pain, which may feel like:
    • muscle fatigue
    • heaviness
    • aching
    • burning
    • cramps
  • pain that worsens when active
  • pain that eases when resting
  • numbness or a “pins and needles” sensation
  • purple or blue tinge to the skin
  • ulcers or wounds on the legs or feet

Learn more about circulation symptoms.

Other causes

Other possible causes of body aches include:

Symptoms you may experience alongside body aches can help your doctor determine the underlying cause or condition.

Other symptoms can depend on the cause, but may include:

It is important to let your doctor know about all of your symptoms.

When should I see a doctor for body aches?

Contact your doctor for an appointment if body aches last longer than a few days, keep coming back, or are severe. As body aches can be a symptom of various illnesses, it is important to contact your doctor for a diagnosis.

Seek immediate medical help if you experience body aches alongside any of the following:

How do doctors diagnose the cause of body aches?

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may perform a physical examination and take a full medical history. They may then ask you questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • When did your body aches start?
  • Are your body aches constant, or do they come and go?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
  • When do your symptoms occur?
  • What, if anything, makes your symptoms better or worse?
  • What medications do you take, if any?

Your doctor may then order tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out possible causes. Tests they order may depend on your symptoms, but can include:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • imaging tests

Your doctor will be able to explain the tests they order and answer any questions you may have beforehand.

What are the treatments for body aches?

Treating body aches depends entirely on the underlying cause. Treatment may involve medications, home remedies, physical therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.

Medications

Medications for relieving body aches may include:

  • pain relief medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen
  • corticosteroids for inflammatory causes
  • muscle relaxants for stiffness, tension, and muscle pain

Heat and cold therapy

Heat may help alleviate body aches by opening constrained blood vessels. Heat therapy can be helpful in soothing sore muscles and back and neck pain.

Cold therapy, or applying ice, may help alleviate pain and inflammation. Applying ice at the time of an injury may prove especially helpful.

In some cases, alternating between heat and cold therapy may be the most effective method for treating your body aches. Contact your doctor for advice before beginning heat or cold therapy to find out the best approach for you.

Learn about heat and cold therapy for back pain.

Rest, ice, compression, and elevation

Your doctor may recommend the rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) method. RICE involves the following:

  • Rest: Rest your body and postpone any activity that may have caused your injury.
  • Ice: Use an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables to help reduce swelling and relieve pain.
  • Compression: Use a compression bandage to help manage any swelling.
  • Elevation: If safe, elevate the area to minimize inflammation from the injury.

Stretching and strengthening exercises

Practicing stretching and strengthening exercises can help treat and prevent body aches.

You may wish to contact your doctor or a physical therapist for advice before beginning a new exercise regime.

Relaxation techniques

Research into the effectiveness of relaxation methods such as massage therapy remains mixed Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source . The cause and location of pain may determine which types of massage may be effective.

Contact your doctor for advice about the type of massage that may help to alleviate your body aches.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about body aches.

Why do I have body aches when I’m not sick?

If you have body aches without any other symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor for a diagnosis. It could be due to a number of causes, such as dehydration or circulatory problems.

What diseases cause your muscles to ache?

There are numerous conditions that cause aching muscles. This includes autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, conditions that affect blood flow, and musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis.

Does COVID-19 start with body aches?

You may experience muscle or body aches with COVID-19. This can begin anywhere from 2–14 days Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source after exposure to the virus.

Body aches related to COVID-19 should improve shortly after recovery from the illness.

Learn more about the symptoms of COVID-19.

Summary

Body aches can be due to musculoskeletal problems, autoimmune conditions, infections, or problems with blood flow. They may also be a result of an injury, side effects from a vaccine, or due to dehydration. In rare cases, they occur as a result of a serious condition such as cancer.

Body aches can be mild or strong and temporary or chronic. Sometimes, body aches are limited to one area, but in other cases, they can affect the entire body.

Effective treatments to alleviate body pain can include medication, physical therapy, and home remedies such as RICE. Contact your doctor if the pain and symptoms associated with body aches persist or worsen.

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Medical Reviewer: Angela M. Bell, MD, FACP
Last Review Date: 2023 Jan 25
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