For many older adults, aching muscles and joints are common. Muscles weaken with age and become less flexible — which can cause stiffness or soreness.
But in some cases, aches are a symptom of a disease or side effect from medication. Adults should check with a doctor when body aches have lasted more than a month; when aching is intense or interferes with normal activities; when morning stiffness lasts more than an hour; or when aching has come on suddenly with no obvious cause.The March issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers possible causes and treatments for body aches.Polymyalgia rheumatica: This causes widespread, moderate to severe joint stiffness and muscle aching that often involves the neck, shoulders and hips. Symptoms are usually worse in the morning. Relatively low doses of the corticosteroid prednisone usually provide remarkable relief.Infections: Short-lived body aches can accompany a bacteria or viral infection. Symptoms usually go away once the infection is gone.Rheumatoid arthritis: This and other forms of inflammatory arthritis are considered autoimmune diseases. The immune system attacks parts of the body, causing inflammation and tissue damage, particularly in the joints. A wide variety of medications, including corticosteroids or drugs that affect the immune system, are used to reduce pain and inflammation.Inflammatory myopathies: These autoimmune diseases, where the immune system attacks muscles, cause progressive muscle weakness over time. Treatments are corticosteroids or drugs that affect the immune system.Depression: Aches and pains can be symptoms of depression. And people coping with chronic pain often can become depressed, worsening sensations of pain and aching. Combining antidepressant medication with psychotherapy can help ease pain.Cholesterol-lowering medications: A possible side effect of statin drugs, commonly prescribed to reduce cholesterol, is muscle pain and weakness. Occasionally, statins may cause myopathy, characterized by severe muscle aching and weakness. To reduce pain, the patient may need to learn other ways to manage cholesterol levels.Underactive thyroid disease: Most common in women over 60, this occurs when the thyroid gland isn’t producing enough of the hormone thyroxine. Symptoms include constant fatigue, muscle aches and an inability to stay warm in cooler environments. Treatment involves a synthetic version of thyroxine, usually taken in pill form.Vitamin D deficiency: Vitamin D is produced by the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. A deficiency can cause muscle weakness, aches and pains. Vitamin D supplements can ease pain.Fibromyalgia: Symptoms often include fatigue and widespread pain and aching in joints and muscles. Treatment involves a variety of pain management techniques.(Source: Mayo Clinic : March 2007.)