Is Muscle Pain a Symptom of COVID-19?

What to know about muscle pain and COVID-19 infections.

Muscle pain—technically called myalgia—is a known symptom of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added muscle pain to its list of COVID-19 symptoms in April 2020.

But COVID-19 isn't the only cause of muscle pain; a variety of other conditions or lifestyle factors—influenza, chronic illness, injuries—can also lead to muscle or joint pain (arthralgia).

Here's what to know about muscle pain associated with COVID-19—and what to do about it.

How Common Is Muscle Pain From COVID-19?

The CDC doesn't provide information on how common COVID-19 symptoms are, but research shows muscle pain is a little less common than other well-known COVID-19 symptoms.

A February 2020 report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that, among more than 55,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China, only 14.8% of patients reported muscle or joint pain. That's significantly less than the number of patients who reported a fever (87.9%) and dry cough (67.7%), and still less common than other symptoms like fatigue (38.1%) and shortness of breath (18.6%). It is, however, slightly more common than a sore throat (13.9%), headache (13.6%), and chills (11.4%).

Two systematic reviews from 2020—one published in The Central European Journal of Medicine; the other in PLoS One—found similar rates of muscle pain among COVID-19 infections: 16.9% and 17%, respectively.

Why Does COVID-19 Cause Muscle Pain?

Muscle pain—often caused by muscle inflammation (myositis)—isn't an uncommon symptom of viral infections. "In general, coronavirus, like other viruses, can cause inflammation of the muscle tissue," Amir Barzin, DO, MS, incident commander for the Respiratory Diagnostic Center at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, told Health.

Dr. Barzin said that muscle pain resulting from a viral infection is caused by damage to the muscle fibers from the virus. The virus also triggers an inflammatory response within your body—through inflammatory cytokines that essentially signal the immune system to get to work—that can cause abnormal tissue breakdown.

What Does Muscle Pain From COVID-19 Feel Like?

According to Dr. Barzin, the muscle pain associated with COVID-19 usually feels like "tenderness to the touch of the muscle or pain with movements of the muscle." While muscle pain from a workout can feel similar to the muscle pain caused by a virus like SARS-CoV-2, virus pain tends to be more generalized, while exercise or injury-related pain tends to be more localized in a specific muscle.

Sometimes even doctors have a hard time distinguishing virus-induced muscle pain from exercise-induced muscle pain. "It's very hard to tell the difference," said Dr. Barzin, adding that doctors often have to play detective to get to the root of the issue—questioning whether the patient has worked out recently or if they have other infectious symptoms, like fever, chills, or coughing, which can help with a diagnosis.

Virus-related muscle pain and exercise-induced muscle pain are also different in how long they take to resolve. "Viral myopathies [muscle issues] tend to resolve in weeks to months after the infection clears," said Dr. Barzin. Muscle soreness from exercise tends to resolve within 48-72 hours.

What To Do if You Suspect COVID-19 Is Causing Your Muscle Pain

If you suspect your muscle pain is caused by COVID-19, you should take a test as soon as possible—especially if you have other common COVID-19 symptoms like fever, cough, and fatigue.

Even if you don't have other symptoms currently, it may be helpful to track any previous COVID-19 symptoms. A 2020 study published in Frontiers in Public Health found that muscle and joint pain caused by SARS-CoV-2 may appear after fever and cough—but around the same time as headache or sore throat.

As of March 2022, should you test positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends staying home for five days and isolating yourself from those within your home as much as possible. If your symptoms have improved or are improving at the end of your five-day quarantine—and you've been fever-free for 24 hours—you may end your isolation but continue to wear a mask for another five days.

How To Treat Muscle Pain From COVID-19

According to Dr. Barzin, "muscle soreness from exercise can be relieved by icing, rolling, light stretching, massage, and light aerobic activity before starting your workout routine."

But when muscle pain is caused by COVID-19 or another viral infection, treatment looks a little different. Charles Odonkor, MD, a Yale Medicine physiatrist and pain medicine specialist, said bed rest, fluid hydration, and general symptom management with pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin and ibuprofen could help with COVID-related muscle pain. However, if you don't feel relief from the above recommendations, you should seek medical care.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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