Muscle and joint pain may overlap, but they can have different causes and treatment approaches. Muscle and joint pain can accompany swelling, stiffness, reduced mobility, and other symptoms.

Depending on the cause, muscle pain, or myalgia, usually subsides when the affected area is not in use. However, joint pain can persist even when the body is at rest. This is because joint pain often relates to underlying conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, and in some cases, autoimmune disorders, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

This article overviews the most common causes of muscle and joint pain, treatments for these issues, and when to seek medical attention.

A person in sports clothes holding their shoulder.Share on Pinterest
JTSorrell/Getty Images

Muscle pain can be a short- or long-term issue, depending on the cause. Possible causes of short-term, or acute, muscle pain include:

Possible causes of long-term, or chronic, muscle pain include:

Joint pain may be constant or sporadic and can affect multiple body areas, but a person will most commonly feel it in the hands, feet, knees, hips, and neck. Unlike muscle pain, joint pain directly affects the joints and surrounding structures, such as bones, cartilage, and tendons.

Possible causes of joint pain include:

Common muscle and joint pain symptoms include:

Muscle pain often occurs with muscle spasms and cramps. People may also have muscle and joint pain at the same time.

Some individuals may experience pain that comes and goes, while others may have constant pain.

Generally, diagnosing muscle and joint pain involves a doctor taking a medical history and examining the affected area.

If the cause of a person’s pain is not apparent, a doctor may recommend tests, such as:

There are various treatment options for muscle and joint pain, depending on its cause and severity. These can include:


Medications for muscle pain include prescription medications, such as muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories, and anticonvulsants. People can also take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Medications for joint pain include:

  • prescription medications, such as tramadol and corticosteroid joint injections
  • OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac
  • OTC topical analgesics, such as creams, gels, or patches

Home remedies

Home remedies for muscle pain include:

  • rest
  • elevating or massaging the affected area
  • alternating between a hot and cold compress
  • soaking in a warm bath with some Epsom salts

Home remedies for joint pain include:

As there are many causes of muscle and joint pain, prevention may not always be possible. However, the following may help prevent muscle and joint pain relating to injuries:

  • warming up and cooling down properly before and after physical activity
  • maintaining an appropriate posture
  • getting regular exercise
  • taking breaks to stretch and move around during prolonged periods of sitting or standing

The Arthritis Foundation provides the following advice for reducing the risk of arthritis:

  • maintain a moderate weight
  • avoid smoking, if applicable
  • eat a nutritious diet low in sugar, alcohol, and purines

Learn more about preventing arthritis.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about muscle and joint pain.

How do you know if it is muscle or joint pain?

One of the best ways to tell the difference between muscle and joint pain is to pay attention to the location and type of pain. People typically feel muscle pain as dullness or ache in a specific muscle or muscle group. Conversely, individuals often feel joint pain in and around the joints that can be sharp or burning.

When should I be worried about muscle and joint pain?

Muscle and joint pain that is severe or does not resolve within a few days could indicate an underlying condition.

A person should consult a doctor if they:

  • develop a fever
  • have a tick bite
  • notice signs of infection, including swelling, warmth, or tenderness
  • think that medication is causing the pain

Joint and muscle pain can be temporary, but in some instances, people should seek medical attention.

For muscle pain

Muscle pain due to sprains, strains, or overuse should subside within 2 weeks. People with muscle pain should seek medical care if:

  • the pain is severe or worsens
  • there is a large amount of swelling and bruising
  • it hurts to put weight on the affected area
  • the affected area is very stiff and difficult to move
  • they develop a fever

For joint pain

People with joint pain should contact a doctor if the skin around the joint feels swollen and hot or if they feel unwell and have a fever.

Individuals should seek immediate medical care if they experience more severe symptoms, such as:

  • severe joint pain following an injury or fall
  • being unable to put weight on the joint
  • a joint shifting position
  • numbness or tingling around the joint

Muscle and joint pain are common issues. Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain, and injury or overuse are common causes of muscle pain. To prevent muscle and joint pain, people should maintain a moderate weight, exercise regularly and ensure an appropriate posture.

Some treatment options for muscle and joint pain include taking OTC pain medication and home remedies, such as applying a heat pad or ice pack, resting, and gentle massage.

Although the pain can be uncomfortable, it should improve within a few days of treatment. However, in some cases, it may take more time to recover. If the pain does not subside, it is best to seek medical care from a healthcare professional.