Upper Body Muscle Pain

iThai cobra pose as part of a Thai body massage. image by Deborah Benbrook from Fotolia.com

Numerous conditions can cause upper body muscle pain. According to MayoClinic.com, sore, aching muscles are one of the most common health complaints. Upper body muscle pain is common in sedentary individuals who engage in vigorous physical activity or exertion, although blunt-force trauma, repetitive strain injuries and certain neuromuscular and musculoskeletal conditions can also cause upper body muscle pain. Upper body muscle pain may occur on one or both sides of the body, and it may be temporary or long-lasting.


Anatomically speaking, the upper body is composed of all the tissues and structures in the head, neck, torso and upper extremities. When most people discuss the upper body, however -- especially the muscles of the upper body -- they are referring to the muscles on the front of the chest, shoulders, upper back, neck and arms. Upper body muscles, known as skeletal muscles, run from one bone to another, and when they contract, they act across joints to help move different segments of the body. Upper body muscles are surrounded by fascia, which is a type of connective tissue.


Numerous conditions and injuries can cause upper body muscle pain. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is one of the most common causes of upper body muscle pain. DOMS manifests after excessively vigorous physical activity, especially among people who have been inactive for prolonged periods. Upper body muscle strains -- partial tearing of upper body muscle fibers -- are another common cause of upper body muscle soreness, especially among athletes. Muscle contusions or bruises, muscle cramps or charley horses, and fibromyalgia can all cause upper body muscle pain, states the MedlinePlus website.


Symptoms associated with upper body muscle pain largely depend on the cause of the pain, the extent of tissue injury or damage, and the type of tissue affected. Common signs and symptoms associated with upper body muscle pain include sharp, stabbing, shock-like, burning or aching pain in the affected area; trigger points -- hyper-irritable nodules or knots within a tight band of muscle -- that refer or send pain to other parts of the upper body; and decreased muscle and tendon flexibility. There may also be decreased joint active range of motion and bruising and swelling in affected areas.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing upper body muscle pain, including increasing exercise volume and intensity too quickly at the start of an exercise program; failing to warm-up sufficiently prior to vigorous activity; and participating in contact sports such as football, rugby, hockey or martial arts. Women are more likely than men to develop upper body muscle pain associated with certain medical conditions such as lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica and fibromyalgia.


Most upper body muscle pain -- especially muscle pain that's associated with acute injuries or repetitive strain injuries -- usually responds well to conservative care methods. These methods may include rest, ice, heat, activity modification and gentle stretching. Manual medicine techniques, such as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, trigger point therapy and massage therapy may be particularly beneficial for a person with upper body muscle pain. Also certain physical therapy modalities, such as electrical stimulation, cold laser therapy and functional exercises may be helpful.