Muscular pains

Description, causes, prevention, treatment and medicines

Muscular aches and pains may be caused by unaccustomed use of muscles or overuse. More severe muscle pain accompanied by swelling and restricted movement or bruising may mean that muscles, tendons or ligaments have been torn or damaged, for example, sprains or strains.

When should you seek medical advice?

You should seek medical advice if:

  • you have a serious loss of movement;
  • the pain is severe;
  • you are unable to bear weight on a leg or use an arm;
  • the area is swollen and/or warm to touch, or you have extensive bruising;
  • the pain or discomfort has not improved after self-care treatment; or
  • the pain is from a back or neck injury.

What can you do?

Sprains, strains or other soft tissue damage are best treated by the RICE regimen for the first 48 to 72 hours.

  • Rest — no further exercise for 48 to 72 hours.
  • Ice — apply ice for 10 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Compression — use a firm crepe or elastic pressure bandage to help limit the swelling.
  • Elevation — keep the injured body part raised to help reduce the swelling.

Don’t put ice directly onto the skin. Use a commercial ice pack, following the manufacturer’s instructions, or wrap ice in a towel.

After 72 hours the damaged tissues generally start to heal, and heat and massage may then be introduced. It is advisable to check with a physiotherapist or doctor before starting heat treatments and physical activity, to avoid the risk of further tissue damage.

Muscle aches, stiffness or soreness caused by overuse or unaccustomed use may be relieved by anti-inflammatory or rubefacient (‘heat rub’) products. These should not be applied to broken skin, or near the eyes or mucous membranes, and should not be used with occlusive (sealed) dressings. You should also make sure that you wash your hands after applying creams, gels, ointments, lotions or rubs.

Gentle exercise, massage and medicine may also help restore mobility in the case of muscle soreness and stiffness.

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