One of the most distinct symptoms of the flu (influenza) is painful body aches.1 For most people, their muscles feel so sore and achy it hurts to move. Additionally, body aches can leave you feeling weak, fatigued, and extremely exhausted. Fortunately, they can be treated and managed successfully.
Why You Hurt
When a person gets the flu, natural chemicals are released in the body to help it fight off the infection. Muscle aches and pain are produced by this immune response to fighting hard against illness.2 While it may not feel like it, body aches are good sign because your body is doing what it is supposed to do to help you get better.
Dehydration may also contribute to body aches when you have the flu. The body always needs water to prevent muscle cramping and soreness, and this is even more important when you are sick.
Some people experience aches and pains every single time they get the flu, while others rarely experience any related pain. Older adults and people with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and autoimmune diseases, tend to experience more aches when they have the flu because their bodies have a harder time fighting off disease.3 Anytime the body has to work harder, more aches and pains are experienced.
People who liver in colder climates may experience more body aches with the flu as well. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, it is more prone to soreness. The flu also makes the body’s resistance to cold temperatures weaker than it usually is.
What You Can Do
There some things you can do to help you manage body aches as you try to recover from the flu.
Take a Pain Reliever
Over-the-counter pain relievers may help make you more comfortable. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are more likely to help with the aching than other pain relievers like Tylenol (acetaminophen).4 Examples of NSAIDs include Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen), aspirin, and Aleve (naproxen).
If you can’t take NSAID pain relievers due to kidney problems, stomach issues, or other medical concerns, talk to your healthcare provider about alternative treatments for your body aches.
Aspirin should not be given to children under age 18, especially when they have the flu, due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Ensuring you get enough to drink when you are sick is important. Drink plenty of water, broth, electrolyte drinks, and sports drinks to help your body stay hydrated.
Painful body aches may make even resting uncomfortable, but forcing yourself to relax when you have the flu is important. Getting as much sleep and rest as you can gives your body the best chance to heal and fight off the infection.5
A warm bath or shower can help relieve body pain. Bathing with a fever is fine and can help bring a temperature as well, but the water should be lukewarm to avoid fever increases. It may be a good idea to keep an eye on a child in the bath who has a fever or other cold symptoms, including dizziness, to avoid injury.
Since fevers can cause dizziness and general weakness, avoid showering with a high fever.
Heating pads and heated blankets can also relieve some of your pain. Be careful not use excessive heat to avoid burns.
Ask a family member or friend to give you a massage on the parts of your body that ache. Applying topical relief creams during massage can help with blood flow and further ease your aches.
When to See a Doctor
Although body aches are normal with the flu, if they become much more severe than you would expect, you should contact your doctor.2
You should also seek medical attention for muscle aches if:
There are signs of infection, such as redness or swelling, around a muscle
There is poor circulation in the area that hurts; for example, your legs
You have recently been bit by a tick
Pain doesn’t improve within three days
Call 911 or go to your local emergency room if:
You have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
You have muscle weakness or cannot move part of your body
You have vomiting, a stiff neck, and fever