You may have experienced myalgia during your illness or it may have started in the weeks after you were ill. According to the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), myalgia is amongst the common lasting symptoms after having COVID.
Sometimes your joints and muscles might:
- Feel painful
- Feel stiff
Usually, you will notice these problems in your shoulders, neck, back, hips and knees.
These problems are not serious and will get better, but sometimes you might need medicine or treatment.
Why am I having problems in my joints and muscles after COVID?
You might have already had joint and muscle problems before you got COVID. These problems can come back or get worse after COVID as you are not using your joints and muscles as much as before.
Using your joints and muscles less than you would normally can lead to them becoming weak and deconditioned, and you might find it hard to:
- Stand up
- Climb stairs
- Grip objects with your hands
- Lift your arms above your head
- Get into and out of the bath
Some of the treatments you had during COVID might have put extra strain on your joints and muscles. These treatments might have caused new joint and muscle problems or made the problems worse.
After COVID, you might have:
- Shoulder and back problems
- Joint and muscle problems anywhere in your body
- Aches all over your body that get better but sometimes come back
- A numb or tingling feeling in your arms or legs
Many joint and muscle problems get better quickly after COVID. You can help your recovery by managing your pain and looking after your joints and muscles better.
If problems get worse, you can contact:
- Your GP
- A physiotherapist – healthcare specialist that treats muscle and joint problems
Chest pain is a common symptom of COVID-19. It can be brought on by breathing deeply, coughing and/or sneezing as COVID directly affects your lungs and their muscles.
Chest pains after having COVID can be worrying, but they are usually not life threatening. You can read more about chest pains here.
Returning to usual activities and staying active after COVID
After you have had COVID and if you start to feel better, you should slowly aim to get back to doing your daily activities and to move around more.
It is common to want to avoid any activity if you are feeling pain, but not moving around or resting too much can make your joint and muscle problems worse. Instead, being more active can help prevent further weakening of your muscles and worsening pain.
Being active does not have to mean going to the gym and/or doing tiring exercise. Instead, trying to get back into your daily routine is a good place to start. You should slowly start to:
- Wash yourself
- Get dressed by yourself
- Do the housework
- Do some gardening
- Try some of your hobbies
At first, you might not be able to do as much as you used to do and you may need to rest more often. You might also have other lasting problems after COVID, such as getting out of breath or feeling tired all the time, so take a rest when you need to. Over time, you may find yourself being able to engage more in activities of daily living and hobbies.
Learn more about:
Sitting, standing or lying in the same position for a long time is bad for your muscles and joints, so you should move around as much as possible. You can try to:
- Write the alphabet out with one foot, and then swap and do it with the other
- Do sit-to-stands at your own pace – standing up from a chair and then sitting down slowly
- Go for short walks if you can – either around your home, in your garden or outside
If the way you sit or stand makes your aches and pains worse, try to make yourself more comfortable or move around.
If you feel well enough to do so, you can exercise after COVID unless you have been told not to by your healthcare professional, such as a doctor or physiotherapist. Exercise will help your joint and muscle problems and make you feel more in control of them.
As you start to feel better, you can slowly start to do more exercise. There are multiple forms of exercise that you can do based on what you enjoy and how you feel.
You can start with activities that help you become more flexible such as:
- Stretching – moving your joints as far as you can several times a day to increase your range of motion
- Yoga – a mind and body practice that involves stretching and holding poses, breathing techniques and meditation
- Tai chi – a series of gentle physical stretches and exercise motions
You can download free apps on the App store or Google play store to follow at home on your own.
Strength exercises will help you build stronger muscles and strength. These exercises are any activities that make your muscles work harder than usual. If you can, try to do two or more strength exercises every week, such as:
- Climbing stairs
- Lifting weights
- Working with resistance bands
- Gardening activities such as digging
- Walking uphill
What if I feel pain during activity and/or exercise?
It is common to experience pain and discomfort during activity and/or exercise or even for a couple of days afterwards, especially if it is something you haven’t done in a while or if you are trying something new.
It is normally not the activity or exercise that causes the pain and discomfort, but the intensity at which you do it at. It is important that you learn to be active and/or exercise at a level that is right for you. This will come with experience as you start to learn how to ‘pace yourself’.
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How can I manage my mood and anxiety?
You may be feeling frustrated, anxious or have low mood as you might not be able to do the things that you want to do or do as much as you would normally. This can leave you feeling less motivated which could affect your activity levels and your recovery.
You should try to remain active and to find things that can distract you from thinking about your joint and muscle problems all the time.
For people with long COVID and who might be experiencing pain over a long period of time. How you feel and what you believe can be better for your pain levels and how you cope and function with pain daily than physical changes in your joints and muscles. Try to manage your thoughts and feelings by:
- Having positive thoughts – these can help to reduce pain and help you to cope with it better
- Remaining positive about your joint and muscle problems can help you cope more effectively with your symptoms
- Retaining purpose – remember that your recovery can be a long journey, but it will ultimately lead to you feeling better over time
Continuing to do things you enjoy but making small changes in the way you do them is important for you to successfully manage your joint and muscle problems long-term.
Painkillers and creams you can buy at your local pharmacy can help, but you should always ask the pharmacist for advice on what you should use.
Before you take any new medicine, you should check with the pharmacist or your GP.
When should I see my GP?
You should call your GP or physiotherapist straight away if:
- Your joint and muscle problems are getting worse
- Your joint and muscle problems have not got better after three months
- You cannot move around or exercise because of other problems such as feeling tired all the time or being out of breath
- The pain causes problems sleeping
- You get new problems such as: problems with your balance, a numb or tingling feeling that is not getting better or your arms or legs feeling weaker
When should I get urgent help?
If your joints get hot, red and swell up, you should go to accident and emergency (A&E) on the same day as you might have an infection that needs urgent treatment.
If you get severe pain in your back and leg and suddenly need the toilet or lose control of your bladder or bowels, you must go straight to A&E or call 999.