Pain can strike any of the more than 600 muscles in your body, heralding itself as a strain, soreness, or a cramp.
In all three cases, overuse is to blame: doing too much, too soon, too often, says Ted Percy, M.D.
If you've already overdone it, don't worry. Here are a host of things that you can do to ease muscle pain.
Most of the time, the pain of a sudden muscle cramp, strain, or even extreme soreness is a lot more serious than the injury. But not always.
Cramping, for example, could be the result of a nerve injury, says Allan Levy, M.D. Or, in rare cases, it could be the result of phlebitis—inflammation of a vein. Phlebitis can become serious if a deep vein is involved, but is typically not serious when the inflammation is located in a superficial vein. (For more information, see Phlebitis.)
A strain may not even be what it seems. "This is very rare," Dr. Levy says, "but I had a patient who thought he had badly strained a thigh muscle on a stationary bike. It never improved, and we finally did surgery. He had a huge malignant tumor in the muscle."
The point here isn't to scare you, but to remind you that muscle problems that take on abnormal characteristics and linger may be more serious. Consult your doctor.
Scott Donkin, D.C., is a partner in the Chiropractic Associates in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is also an industrial consultant, providing tips on exercise to reduce stress for workstation users, and the author of Sitting on the Job.
Carol Folkerts is a physical therapist working in the Baltimore County public schools.
Allan Levy, M.D., is a team physician for the New York Giants football team and co-author of The Sports Injury Handbook.
Mike McCormick is a partner with AthletiCo Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy Center in LaGrange Park, Illinois.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and in practice at Mirkin Medical Consultants in Kensington, Maryland. He is the co-author of several sports medicine books, including Women and Exercise, and a syndicated newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster.
Edward C. Percy, M.D., is an associate professor emeritus of surgery and physiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.
Bob Reese is the former head trainer for the New York Jets and past president of the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society. He is now an associate professor at the College of Health Sciences in Roanoke, Virginia.