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What Causes Muscle Inflammation?

Karyn Maier
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Muscle inflammation is a condition characterized by swelling, stiffness, non-specific pain, and muscle soreness or weakness. Without undergoing testing to diagnose the specific cause of inflammation, it can be difficult to know how to proceed to effectively reduce inflammation and relieve muscle pain. For that matter, there are various causes of this condition that should be ruled out if symptoms are severe and of unknown origin. For instance, chronic muscle inflammation may be due to multiple sclerosis or lupus. Therefore, a consultation with a rheumatologist for imaging and blood tests may be in order if any of these disorders are suspected.

In the absence of an autoimmune disease, most cases of simple muscle inflammation can be attributed to overexertion while exercising or participating in recreational sports. This is when the desired muscle burn provided by such activity becomes overshadowed by muscle aches. Unfortunately, many people tend to reach for an ice pack to remedy this situation. However, applying heat is actually the appropriate thing to do since it increases blood circulation. An electric heating pad or a gel pack that can be warmed up in the microwave is ideal for this purpose.

Muscle inflammation and pain may also be addressed with non-steroidal pain relievers, or NSAIDS. These medications are available without a prescription and include aspirin and ibuprofen. However, a physician can prescribe stronger versions of these drugs if necessary, such as naproxen. If symptoms are chronic or severe, treatment with ultrasound, massage therapy, or physical rehabilitation exercises may be helpful.

There are a number of complementary therapies that may help to ease muscle inflammation as well. For instance, homeopathic dosages of arnica often bring relief. The topical application of certain essential oils diluted with a carrier oil may also help. These include birch and wintergreen, both of which possess anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In fact, the latter is used in many over-the-counter ointments formulated specifically for muscle aches. In addition, taking fish oil supplements may help due to the anti-inflammatory action of omega-3 fatty acids.

While recovering, it may be advisable to steer away from consuming too many animal products, which contain high levels of pro-inflammatory fats. These fats promote the excessive production of leukotrienes, which causes the immune system to go into overdrive. The end result is more inflammation.

Finally, getting enough sleep can help to minimize both inflammation and pain. This may be difficult when swelling, pain, or even involuntary muscle spasms tend to interrupt sleep. However, research in this area suggests that there is a connection between the body’s ability to repair itself and sufficient periods of rest. If a solid eight hours at night proves to be impossible, a few well-timed daytime naps may help to make up for the loss of nighttime sleep.

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Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Oct 18, 2012
@clintflint - I think that the omega oils are one of the best ways to go. Getting enough in the diet is the best way to do it, but if not you should take some supplements.

It sounds like the best thing is to avoid the inflammation in the first place. My father was a sportsman and he suffered a lot in his later years because he didn't go easy in his earlier years. Taking care of your long term health rather than just fixing things as they break is the ideal.

By clintflint — On Oct 18, 2012

Whenever I spend too much time at my computer I tend to get muscle pain and inflammation in my jaw which can quickly become really painful. It heats up a bit and sometimes it swells slightly as well.

I try to relax and that helps and sometimes a bit of massage helps as well, but the thing that helps the most is taking a couple of anti-inflammatories, like some ibuprofen. I try not to let it get to that point though, because I just don't like having to take medication too often.

It's great to get some other kinds of remedies in the comments here, so if you've got any others I'd like to hear them!

By anon275177 — On Jun 16, 2012

I suffer with costocondritus (inflammation of the muscles on the chest), which can make me pass out if I don't get pain relief quickly. I have started carrying around the instant heat packs along with my codeine and they have saved me quite a few times.

By calabama71 — On Jul 10, 2010

I had a sports-related injury a couple of years ago. I suffered from muscle inflammation. I, on the advice of a friend, went a massage therapist.

She used wintergreen and birch essential oil and it seemed to pull the pain right out. Lavender essential is also used to relax the muscle fibers.

By cmsmith10 — On Jul 10, 2010

Many cases of inflammation of the muscles are due to injury, more common in athletes. Unbalanced diet also can lead to muscle inflammation.

There is really no cure for muscle inflammation. The symptoms, however, can be treated. Rest is very important. Many doctors will prescribe NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs).

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to The Health Board is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's...
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