What are body aches?
In general, body aches are dull pain or discomfort in part or all of the body. These aches can be mild or strong and temporary or chronic. Sometimes, body aches feel more muscular in nature and are limited to one area. Other times, it feels like you ache all over and feel uncomfortable everywhere.
There are many different causes of body aches. Various mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions can trigger body aches. When body aches are in one area, the cause may originate from the musculoskeletal system. Minor injuries, overuse injuries, arthritis or stress could be to blame. Full-body aches are more likely to indicate an illness of some sort.
Other symptoms that accompany body aches can be clues to the underlying problem. Body aches and fever or body aches and chills may originate from a bad cold or a more serious infection, such as COVID-19 or influenza—the flu. All-over body aches with no fever may be due to several conditions, ranging from drug side effects to autoimmune disorders.
Seek prompt medical care for persistent body aches with no apparent cause or if body aches are causing you concern. Your doctor will need to determine if they are related to a chronic medical condition.
Body aches related to an acute condition, such an electrolyte imbalance or severe infection, may require emergency attention. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have body aches along with other symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, fever higher than 101°F, chest pain or pressure, muscle weakness, or difficulty breathing.
What other symptoms might occur with body aches?
Body aches may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying cause.
Musculoskeletal-related symptoms that may occur along with body aches
Body aches may accompany other symptoms affecting the musculoskeletal system. This includes the bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms may include:
- Bruising or swelling
- Inability to bear weight on a limb or problems using the limb
- Joint pain, stiffness and limited mobility
- Warmth and redness
Other symptoms that may occur along with body aches
Body aches can occur along with a variety of other symptoms that depend on the underlying cause. Other symptoms can include any of the following:
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering
Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition
Sometimes, body aches may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that needs immediate evaluation. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these potentially serious symptoms including:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath
- High fever (higher than 101°F)
- Loss of bladder control
- Persistent or severe vomiting with the inability to keep anything down
- Severe pain, abdominal pain, or abdominal cramping
- Sudden vision changes or weakness
What causes body aches?
There are a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause body aches. Often, body aches originate from the muscles or bones. But body aches can also be a symptom of infections, autoimmune diseases, and other types of disorders. Some causes of body aches can be serious.
Musculoskeletal causes of body aches
The musculoskeletal system is one of the most common culprits when it comes to body aches. Common musculoskeletal causes include:
- Acute injuries, including sprains and strains
- Growth plate problems in children and teens
- Nerve compression
- Overuse or repetitive stress injuries
- Stress and muscle tension
Other causes of body aches
Body aches can also be the result of problems in other body systems. Other causes of body aches include:
- Bacterial and viral infections, including colds, flu, COVID-19, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Blood flow problems, such as intermittent claudication
- Immunization against various diseases, due to the normal inflammatory response in building immunity
- Medications, including ACE inhibitors, statins, cancer treatments, and biologics
Serious or life-threatening causes of body aches
In some cases, body aches may be a symptom of a potentially serious or life-threatening condition including:
- Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
- Rhabdomyolysis, which is muscle breakdown that can lead to kidney failure
When should you see a doctor for body aches?
Because having body aches can be a symptom of a variety of problems, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis. Generally, body aches from a viral infection or minor injury will go away with home remedies. Contact your doctor for an appointment if body aches last for more than a few days or if they are severe.
Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room for body aches when:
- You are vomiting, have a high fever, or cannot bend your neck.
- You have extreme weakness that makes it hard to stand or walk or you have paralysis of a body part.
- You experience decreased urine output, very dark or red urine, or sudden weight gain.
- You experience trouble breathing, problems swallowing, or severe pain.
How is the cause of body aches diagnosed?
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask you several questions related to your body aches including:
- When did your body aches start?
- Are your body aches constant or do they come and go?
- Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as fever, joint pain, or dizziness?
- When do your symptoms occur?
- What, if anything, makes your symptoms better or worse?
- What medications do you take?
Depending on your answers and the results of a physical exam, your doctor may need to order tests. This could include a complete blood count, urinalysis, and other blood tests to look at muscle enzyme levels and markers of inflammation. Sometimes, specific tests, such as Lyme disease, are necessary to make a diagnosis. Imaging tests may also be part of the diagnostic process depending on your test results.
It is not always possible to diagnose an underlying cause or condition. If the problem persists and your provider is unable to determine a cause, seeking a second opinion may give you more information and answers.
What are the treatments for body aches?
Treating body aches depends entirely on the underlying cause. Treatment may involve medications, physical therapy, and even surgery, in some cases. Medications for relieving body aches may include:
- Antidepressants and antiseizure medicines
- Corticosteroids for inflammatory causes
- Muscle relaxants
- Pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
Home remedies for body aches
Self-care approaches to treating body aches may include:
- Heat and cold therapy
- Relaxation techniques to relieve tension
- RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) for minor injuries
- Stretching and strengthening exercises
What are the potential complications of body aches?
Potential complications from body aches depends on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Because body aches can be due to serious diseases, delaying treatment runs the risk of serious complications. Once your doctor diagnoses the underlying cause, it is important to follow your treatment plan. This is the best way to help prevent future complications.