Why do you get body aches when you have a cold?


Body aches and pains are a symptom of the common cold.
They appear acutely with the onset of a cold and usually subside with the rest of the symptoms of the disease within a few days. The arms and legs are primarily affected. The intensity and distribution of the pain are variable and depend on the severity of the cold. Reasons for the occurrence of limb pain are on the one hand the complex defense reaction of the body, as well as a loss of electrolytes due to the development of a fever. Good limb pain relief can be achieved with simple measures.

What are body aches?

Body aches are pain in the arms or legs of varying degrees of severity.
It can be muscle pain, but also an increased sensitivity of the skin to pain. The pain can occur at any height of the limb, i.e. on both the shoulder and the fingers or the hip and the feet. The pain does not have to affect all limbs equally. There may also be pain in the limbs only in the legs or only in the arms, and here too in different degrees. The intensity of the pain can vary from a barely perceptible feeling to severe pain when resting and moving. The character of the pain is often described as pulling or biting.

More information can be found here: Pain in the limbs

Why do you get body aches when you have a cold?

The body aches and pains are caused by the body's complex defense reaction against the pathogen. In the vast majority of cases, the pathogens are viruses. If these are detected by the body, a cascade of different signal chains is triggered to activate the immune system. Many messenger substances are also released and an inflammatory reaction occurs in response to the pathogen. With most colds, this is mainly limited to the nasal region.
To a certain extent, a weakened inflammatory reaction is also triggered in the rest of the body, since the messenger substances in the bloodstream circulate throughout the body. In the course of this inflammatory reaction, the body's pain threshold is lowered. This means that the pain receptors in the skin and muscles respond more sensitively to stimuli with a feeling of pain. Limb pain can occur even though the focus of the inflammation is in a different area.

Another mechanism that leads to limb pain is triggered by an increase in body temperature. As part of the defense against pathogens, the body's set temperature is increased in the pituitary gland. This increase in body temperature, which is perceived as the symptom of fever, has a positive effect on the defense reaction. As a side effect, however, the body loses fluid and important electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. These electrolytes are important for muscle contraction, and in healthy people, decreased potassium levels are associated with extensive muscle use. If the potassium content is now reduced by the fever alone, the same signal is still sent to the brain as when the muscles are exerted and there is a feeling of muscular pain in the limbs.

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Do you get body aches with every cold?

Not every cold has to be accompanied by aching limbs.
Since the body aches and pains are primarily triggered by the somatic inflammatory reaction and the loss of fluids or electrolytes, one can draw the conclusion that in the case of weaker colds without fever, body aches do not necessarily have to appear as a symptom.

Also read: Symptoms of a cold

Duration of the body aches

The pain in the limbs as a symptom of a cold usually only lasts a few days, like the underlying disease itself.
As a rule, they do not last longer than ten days. They go away at the same time as the fever and the cold. Only in rare cases can the pain in the limbs persist for a longer period after the cold. If there is no improvement over this longer period of time, a visit to the doctor should be sought.

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You can do that against the pain in the limbs

Pain in the limbs can be relieved with simple measures. The affected limbs should be spared accordingly and no increased muscle strain, such as weight training, should be carried out. In the acute inflammatory phase, i.e. at the beginning of the cold, the affected areas can be cooled to counteract the inflammation. Cooling should only be used for a short period of time and not all four limbs at the same time in order to avoid effects on the circulatory system.
In advanced phases of the common cold, instead of cooling, we recommend applications with heat. If the pain is very intense, a common pain reliever such as ibuprofen can be taken for a short time. Only small doses of painkillers should be taken, as, in addition to their pain-relieving effect, they also have an inhibiting effect on the body's defense reaction, which is, however, important for fighting pathogens.
Furthermore, you can do careful stretching exercises against the pain in the limbs to loosen the muscles and promote their blood circulation. Sufficient fluid intake is not only important for the muscles, but for the water balance of the entire body, which loses a lot of fluids and important electrolytes through increased sweating. With any of these specific approaches, one should not lose sight of the cause of the body aches and pains. In the case of a cold, the limb pains usually only last as long as the cold itself, so that sufficient physical rest and general measures against the cold also have an indirect positive effect on the limb aches.

Read also: Therapy for a cold

Concomitant symptoms

In addition to the pain in the limbs, there are other typical symptoms of a cold. In contrast to the flu, the development of symptoms is rather slow and the symptoms subside after a few days. A cold usually begins with a scratchy feeling in the throat, which can subsequently develop into a sore throat and be accompanied by difficulty swallowing. In addition, there is also inflammation of the nasal mucosa in the initial phase of the common cold, which is particularly noticeable with a runny nose.
Other accompanying symptoms in the area of ​​the nose are increased nasal itching, sneezing and difficult breathing through the nose. The swelling in the paranasal sinuses can cause pressure in the nose and forehead area, which can turn into headaches. With more severe colds, a fever may develop over time. This becomes noticeable at the beginning with a feeling of cold, as the body regulates the target temperature upwards. General exhaustion and reduced performance, for example due to disturbed sleep, can also occur.
At a later stage of the common cold, a dry, irritable cough may develop.

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