During the fall and winter seasons, infectious diseases begin to emerge such as strep throat, influenza, rhinovirus, adenovirus, the common cold and, this year, COVID-19. Viral infections like the flu can cause muscle soreness called myalgias, often referred to as “body aches.” Myalgias are a result of the body working to heal itself. Other causes of myalgias include vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as vitamin D and potassium.
The good news is that body aches — like many other symptoms of these common viruses — can often be treated at home with the right over the counter medications and a little self-care.
Here are the do’s and don’ts of managing body aches.
What to do for body aches
OTC pain relievers
If you become ill and experience body aches, you should seek medical attention by first calling your doctor. They will often recommend over the counter pain relief such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Acetaminophen and NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help relieve headaches, achiness, fever, ear pain, muscle and joint pain.
However, salicylates like aspirin should be avoided in children under the age of 19 because of the association with a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.
If you’re unsure which or how much medication to take, always consult your doctor. You should also check with your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you have a history of stomach problems, diseases of the heart, liver or kidney, or if you’re taking a blood thinner.
You may also consider herbal products to help relieve body aches and other symptoms caused by the flu and other viruses. Over the counter supplements containing the roots of pelargonium sidoides and the extract of black elderberry (Sambucus fructi) have been evaluated for the management of upper respiratory tract symptoms. Black elderberry can be taken as a syrup, gummy or oral supplement.
Take care of your body
In order for your body to fully recover, make sure you get plenty of rest. Use this opportunity to take it slow and easy. It’s also important to stay hydrated when you are ill, so be sure and drink a lot of fluids.
Manage other symptoms
Body aches are often accompanied by other symptoms like fever, chills, headache, sore throat or cough, and the combined effects of these symptoms can leave you feeling miserable. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage any other symptoms you’re experiencing in addition to body aches.
What not to do for body aches
COVID-19, the flu and the common cold are viruses. Antibiotics are only used to treat bacteria and therefore will not work to cure a virus. In fact, treatment with antibiotics for uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infections can actually cause more harm than benefit.
It is best to get tested for influenza, COVID-19 and strep throat before considering the need for an antibiotic. If you test positive for influenza, you may be prescribed an anti-viral medication if detected within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, if bacterial strep throat is detected, antibiotics can be effective.
OTC antihistamines are used for the treatment of seasonal allergies but have no role in treating viral illnesses that cause body aches. These sedating antihistamines may have small symptomatic benefit to help with sleep, but taking them won’t help your body aches go away any faster.
These home remedies can be helpful but if you do get sick, be sure and talk to your primary care doctor about what treatment methods are right to manage your body aches and other symptoms.