The flu is commonly known to cause aches and pains. Most of the time, these symptoms clear up along with other flu symptoms, but for some people, they hang around longer or aggravate pre-existing pain. A growing body of evidence shows Covid-19 patients can struggle with joint pain and swelling for days or weeks after other symptoms abate. This type of viral-related pain can feel unbearable on top of other uncomfortable symptoms, and it is discouraging to feel achy after you are supposed to be well. Here are some things you may not know about viral related pain and how you can treat it:
Why Do Viruses Make Us Hurt?
The blame for viral-related achiness actually goes to your immune system. When it does its job to fight off a virus like the flu or Covid, your body releases cytokines and other inflammatory markers. These can cause inflammation or pain in muscles and joints. About 5-20% of people who become ill with the flu will experience body aches. Joint pain can also occur in Covid-19 patients and can sometimes linger after other symptoms go away.
Older people and those with underlying conditions are more likely to experience muscle and joint pain while sick. The harder your body has to work to fight off a virus, the more pain it can cause.
What Can I Do While I’m Sick?
For most people, aches, and pains associated with viral infection go away with other symptoms. In the meantime, you can use home remedies to make yourself more comfortable. A heating pad or warm bath can help relax muscles and ease the pain. Be careful not to overheat yourself if you already have a fever. Over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can also help body aches and other symptoms like fever. Many cold medicines contain acetaminophen.
Topical treatments that contain lidocaine can be useful if one muscle or joint is particularly sore. You can also use natural methods like essential oils (mixed with carrier oils). Good essential oils for pain include chamomile, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and clove. You can also try putting these oils in a diffuser. Breathing in essential oils can help with pain, and some of them, like eucalyptus, do double duty by also easing congestion.
Other Reasons for Body Pain While You’re Sick
Up to 80% of the population is estimated to suffer from back or neck pain at some point. Often these pre-existing aches can be aggravated by a viral infection. The increased inflammation can cause this, but your behavior while sick may also contribute. Being less active and laying on a couch that may not give good back support can weaken or aggravate muscles. If you suspect that an old injury is acting up while you are sick, you should try the treatments that help when you aren’t sick. Usually, a medication, stretch, or therapeutic exercise that is effective when you don’t have a virus will also help when you do. It may not help as much as usual because of increased inflammation but stretching, and gentle exercise can keep the area from becoming weak and prevent lingering pain.
Coughing, vomiting, and sneezing can also aggravate lower back and neck pain. Try not to lean forward when you cough and do your best to keep violent body movements to a minimum. Gentle stretching after a bout of coughing or vomiting can keep muscles from seizing up.
What About Joint Pain and Swelling?
Covid-19 sometimes causes joint pain and swelling during the initial infection that can linger afterward. The R.I.C.E method you may have used before for injured joints is also effective for Covid related joint pain. R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. For instance, if your knee is swollen, you should wrap it with an elastic bandage (compression), use an ice pack on it, and prop your leg up while you lie down (elevation and rest).
If you have any underlying conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune illnesses, or diabetes, talk to your doctor about your joint pain and ask about safe treatments.
Returning to normal activities and exercise after your illness can be complicated by lingering joint pain. Avoid activities that put pressure on the affected joints. Exercises that require deep bending (like squats), sitting in low chairs, and extremely strenuous exercise can cause joint pain flare-ups. You may need to modify your exercise routine for a few weeks while your body continues to recover. Water-based exercises and cycling are great ways to stay active without hurting your joints. Always listen to your body and rest when you need to.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
The flu and Covid-19 are both potentially serious illnesses, especially in very young children, older adults, and those with underlying conditions. You should notify your doctor if you or a loved one who falls into one of these categories becomes ill. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical care if a sick person has trouble breathing, is running fevers over 102 degrees, or is extremely lethargic or unresponsive. As mentioned above, you should also seek your doctor’s guidance in treating muscle aches and joint pain if you have underlying conditions or take medications.
When joint or muscle pain persists after other symptoms have cleared, a visit to your chiropractor can be beneficial. Chiropractic adjustment helps to clear the nervous system of obstructions and improve immune function. He can also fix any damage that coughing or awkward sitting positions while sick may have caused. Laser therapy is an effective treatment for persistent soft tissue and joint pain that jump-starts the healing process on a cellular level.
Viral-related muscle and joint pain can be miserable, especially when it hangs around for weeks on end. At-home treatments like heat, ice, and stretching can help relieve pain or prevent it from worsening. At All Star Chiropractic, we can help you treat post-viral pain with adjustment, laser therapy, and therapeutic exercise. If you’ve been sick and are still in pain, give us a call.