Viruses are everywhere and are, for the most part, untreatable. Luckily, your body is ideally equipped to combat most viruses that are likely to attack it. We're all accustomed to the common symptoms of common viruses -- congestion, headaches, coughs, and sore throats but once in a while you'll experience some serious aches and pains along with the respiratory symptoms. Oddly enough, it's not the virus itself that causes these unpleasant symptoms. Your body's response to the intruding virus is what causes discomfort and pain.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Why viruses cause joint pain
Think of your cells as soldiers in an army that's been alerted to a bunch of unwanted invaders. The cells with the job of eliminating the invaders rush to the multiple sites of invasion and begin the unpleasant business of attacking and killing the infected cells. These cells produce chemicals that destroy the diseased cell. It's an intense and toxic battle that leaves high levels of inflammation in your body. Inflammation is a major cause of pain in all animals, including humans. Unlike the virus, which is painless, inflammation causes pain in your joints (arthralgia) and in your muscles (myalgia). However, this disease battling process is highly efficient and restores you quickly to health.
Some people find it helpful to rest in bed until their aches and pains are gone: others find gentle movement is best. for joint pain caused by a virus. Some effective treatments are warm baths and showers, light stretching, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen, a light massage, and a heating pad. The longer you experience other symptoms, the longer you're likely to have joint pain after a virus especially if a fever has been involved. Joint pain will continue even after the fever goes away. The joint pain should go away shortly after the other symptoms caused by the virus disappear. If you've stayed in bed for any length of time, your joint pain will be complicated by the soreness and stiffness that comes when you body is inactive, so take that into consideration when deciding whether or not your joint pains merit a doctor's visit.
When to see a doctor
Joint pain from the flu will affect many joints. If you have severe pain in one joint or muscle, chances are it's due to an injury and not the virus. You'll also want to rule out arthritis, or chronic inflammation of the joints. If pain becomes severe, or if it fails to go away within a few days, make an appointment with your health care provider. Some autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, polymyositis and lupus sometimes appear after a viral infection. These diseases are not caused by the virus, but it is one of the triggers. Also see a doctor if any of these symptoms are present: a rash that accompanies the joint pain, inability to move one or more joints, shortness of breath or extreme headaches.
If your child complains of joint pain
It's not as common for children to have this symptom after a virus, so make an appointment with your child's pediatrician if the pain hangs on,for more than a few days, or if the pain is bad enough to disrupt your child's sleep. Check with the pediatrician before dispensing any over-the-counter medicines to your child.
Not everyone can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Check with your physician or pharmacist if you take prescription medications, if you have chronic disease, or if you experience stomach pain or burning.
What you doctor will need to know
While you wait for your appointment, record some facts about your joint aches. Note when the virus symptoms started appearing, and what they were. Pay attention to when the aches are worse: in the morning when you first get up; or after you've moved around a bit. Note any recent travel, vaccinations, exposure and insect bites.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images