Limb pain - pain in the limbs: causes and treatment

Body pains are perceived by those affected as pain in the muscles, joints and bones in the extremities (arms and legs) and are often a concomitant symptom of colds or other infections. They can occur in all extremities at the same time or affect only one arm or one leg. The different forms of body aches also allow conclusions to be drawn about the causes of the symptoms.


The combination of muscle, joint, and bone pain in the extremities, known as limb pain, is a relatively common symptom for colds and flu infections in conjunction with headache and fever.

The sufferers perceive the symptoms as pulling pain, which can vary greatly in intensity and duration. From mild muscle and joint pain that disappears after a short time, to extreme pain that lasts for days, weeks or months and massively affects the quality of life of the sick.

In most cases, the condition is due to an infectious disease, but it can also have numerous other causes. At worst, there is a chronic course in which those affected suffer permanently from the symptoms. If the symptoms do not go away after a short time, this may be an indication of an underlying disease that should always be treated with medical care.

Infections as the cause of body aches

In addition to colds and flu infections, the different causes of body aches include other infectious diseases such as chickenpox, measles, rubella or malaria. In rare cases, the so-called "leptospirosis" can be the reason why the limb pain is often concentrated on the splints and calves.

With trichinosis (worm disease) and with early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE), which is usually transmitted by ticks (tick bites), borreliosis and babesiosis, joint pain is a frequently occurring accompanying symptom. In addition, the complaints in the extremities can occur as part of a kidney infection.

If there is an infection, the joint and muscle pain (myalgia) is usually an indication that it affects the whole body and that the immune system has initiated appropriate defense reactions. Other possible reasons could be poisoning and the side effects of some medications. Disorders and diseases of the nervous system can also be considered as triggers of the symptoms.

Other causes of extremity pain

If the pain does not decrease over time, but develops a chronic character, this should be assessed as an indication that there is a more serious underlying illness that should urgently be treated medically. In such cases, not all extremities are affected equally, but the problems are limited to one leg or one arm.

The background can be, for example, circulatory disorders or a pinched or inflamed nerve. The limb pain, which is restricted to the arm, is so common that it can be summarized under one extra term: brachialgia. These complaints, which usually occur over a longer period of time, are known to be associated with nerve disorders, nerve inflammation (neuritis) and pinched nerves.

Brachialgia can also be caused in some cases by pain radiating from the spine or elbows. Furthermore, it is possible that the arm pain occurs after X-ray radiation of the armpit in breast cancer patients or after a radical removal of the female breast.

Underlying illnesses as a trigger of the complaints

Especially in older people, underlying diseases such as osteoarthritis, rheumatism or gout are often the cause of the complaints. Osteoarthritis can generally occur in any joint in the body, but is particularly common on the knees and hands. Gout, on the other hand, particularly often affects the legs and ankles. The collective term rheumatism stands for various rheumatic diseases that can cause pain in the bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons.

If leg pain is involved, problems with the sciatic nerve (see sciatic nerve pinched), the anterior femoral nerve (nerve femoralis) and the nerve network of the spinal cord and the upper lumbar spine are known as possible triggers.

Muscle tension can also cause limb pain, which is usually concentrated on one leg or one arm. These occur primarily as a result of incorrect workloads and incorrect movements during sporting activities.

Many women suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in the run-up to their menstrual period, which can cause not only pelvic pain, headache, sensitive breasts and difficulty concentrating, but also muscle, joint and bone pain in the extremities.

Pain in the arms and legs due to polyneuropathy

The symptoms can be a possible symptom of the so-called "polyneuropathy". This is a disease of the peripheral nervous system in which those affected - depending on which nerves are affected - e.g. suffer from persistent tingling and coldness in the legs or paralysis.

In the majority of cases, diabetes mellitus or excessive alcohol consumption are the cause of the nerve disease. Other possible triggers include severe damage to kidney function (uremia), poisoning, inflammation or infections such as Lyme disease. Polyneuropathy often manifests itself in a kind of tingling or burning sensation before the typical painful pulling starts in the arms and legs.

Diagnosis for the treatment of body aches

In order to enable efficient medical treatment, therapeutic approaches that are specifically tailored to the causes of the disease are required. Therefore, for the time being, the causes of the complaints must be precisely identified in the context of a precise medical diagnosis. The intensity and duration of the pain in the arms or legs can provide a first indication of a possible underlying disease.

If a cold, flu or one of the other infectious diseases mentioned above is the background, the medical diagnosis is usually relatively uncomplicated. Often, this can already be asked based on the physical condition, the question of the course of the disease and other symptoms. If in doubt, blood and urine samples are examined in the laboratory to detect the corresponding antibodies or pathogens and to provide a clear finding. Taking a sample of the brain water can also be considered for diagnosis.

If neither the course of the disease nor the symptoms or laboratory tests indicate an infectious disease, further steps follow in which, among other things, sensitivity to pain and pressure, reflexes, muscle strength and sensitivity are tested. If in doubt, the corresponding neurological examinations must be carried out by a specialist (neurologist).

Measurements of the nerve conduction speed (NLG), the method of electromyography (measurement of electrical muscle activity), computer tomography and an X-ray of the affected limb can be used for the diagnosis.

Body pain treatment by specialist

Depending on the diverse causes, the possible therapeutic measures are extremely different. In general, the therapy should be explicitly tailored to the causes of pain. In the case of the rather harmless limb pain caused by colds and flu infections, there is often the option to significantly alleviate the symptoms of those affected with proven home remedies.

If there are more serious diseases such as polyneuropathy or other diseases of the nervous system, treatment should always be given by a specialist. For example, in the case of neuritis, this would prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs from the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, a so-called “plexus block” with local anesthesia of the affected nerve can be considered for corresponding complaints. In addition, pain relievers (analgesics) are often used in conventional medicine for the short-term treatment of symptoms. In rare cases, surgical intervention is carried out.

Medicines, herbal ingredients and home remedies

In the case of extremity pain caused by colds and flu, the symptoms can be significantly alleviated using conventional medications such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), ibuprofen or paracetamol, as well as numerous naturopathic procedures and preparations. The conventional medicines promise positive effects due to their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.

Similar healing effects are attributed to herbal anti-inflammatory drugs such as willow bark, chamomile flowers, arnica flowers, goldenrod herb or incense in naturopathy. Furthermore, with cold and flu-related pain in the extremities, for example by using cold wraps for the calves, a significant improvement in the state of health can often be achieved. If the calf wraps show no effect, a so-called descending full bath can be used as an effective home remedy for fever.

For those who do not suffer from fever (or only moderate), a warm bath may provide relief. The effect can be enhanced if the bath water is additionally supplemented with essences that promote circulation, such as birch, nettle leaves or spruce needles.

Another proven home remedy for colds is inhalation. Inhaling the hot steam can be very beneficial for colds and excruciating coughs, as it moisturizes the irritated mucous membranes and loosens stuck mucus from the nose and bronchial system.

Instructions for inhalation with salt water
  1. Fill a bowl with boiling water
  2. Add some table or sea salt (nine grams per liter of water)
  3. Bend your head over the water vapor
  4. Place a towel over your head so that the steam cannot escape
  5. Inhale and exhale calmly and deeply as you inhale
  6. Repeat the application two to three times a day for five to ten minutes each

It is not only alternative medicine that advises people to drink a lot of fluids for cold and flu-related body aches. Water and teas with chamomile flowers, willow bark, linden blossom or ginger are best suited here. It is important to give the body plenty of sleep and rest or relaxation. Exercise should be avoided as much as possible.

Body aches in naturopathy

In naturopathy, homeopathic remedies are often used, which should help against cold-related pain in the extremities as well as against the complaints of gout, arthritis, rheumatism and diseases of the sciatic nerve. In the first case, for example, Bryonia alba, Gelsemium sempervirens and Rhus toxicodendron have proven their worth.

Active substances such as acid formicicum, calcium fluoratum, calcium hypophosphoricum or ledum palustre are used against gout and arthritis. For rheumatism, homeopathic remedies such as Abrotanum, Ammonium chloratum, Aranin, Berberis, Calcium sulfuricum, Dulcamara, Ginseng, Kalium iodatum or Rhododendron are available.

For example, if the sciatic nerve is trapped, homeopathy uses active ingredients such as ammonium carbonicum, Arnica montana, Cinnabaris, Delphinium Staphisagria, Glonoinum, Gnaphalium or Mandragora e radice. Other naturopathic procedures that can offer effective help for sciatic pain include osteopathy and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). (fp, nr)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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  • Bernhard Neundörfer et al .: "Diabetic somatic polyneuropathy - pathogenesis, clinical manifestations and therapy concepts", in: Progress in Neurology · Psychiatry, Volume 68 Issue 6, 2000, Thieme Connect

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