From time to time, our bodies meant to feel certain pain. Our body does not ask for it; it just happens.

Pain comes from different sources, and for various reasons, it can be from a sprained ankle, burned finger or even a dull headache
after an exhausting day at work. It is not fun; pain is a pain.

Can we tell the difference between different kinds of pain? Is there a difference between muscle and nerve pain?

First of all, the most important thing is to know that the most significant difference between muscle and nerve pain is their ‘chronic’ pain nature. Chronic pains are constant and ongoing.

Nerve pain is chronically caused by damaged tissue, and patients suffer from many long-lasting side effects. In comparison, muscle pain can be either acute or chronic.

Chronic and acute pain can be relieved, but also both can be very difficult for a person’s suffering from pain, for their state of mind. Chronic pain is ongoing, almost constant and can cause psychological consequences in person who has it. It has to be mentioned that psychological distress can intensify the pain even further.

Patients with chronic pain, larger than 70% of them, can experience episodes of breakthrough pain, which occur when pain relief medications are not used regularly or properly, or even when it is time for next dose of medicine when the last medication dose “leaked out”.

Before digging into the difference between muscle pain and nerve pain, let’s get our heads around the types of pain better.

Written by Shani, an Australia-base Registered Healthcare Practitioner with a Masters qualification from the University of Newcastle (Australia) and with decades of hands-on experience working for hospitals and in aged-care.

 

Different types of pain

There are many different types of pain. Pain can be not only acute pain or chronic pain but also nerve pain, bone pain, muscle pain and joint pain. And, of course, pain based on the location of the pain (e.g. upper back pain, lower back pain, groin pain, thigh pain, knee pain, calf pain and foot pain).

In addition, a person can experience emotional pain.

Let’s try to differentiate acute and chronic pains better.

Pains based on pain duration

Acute pain

Acute pain starts suddenly, and it is short-term pain. It can last from a few minutes/hours up to 3 months.

This kind of pain is caused by damaged muscle, organs or bone tissue, usually combined with emotional distress.

It has to be mentioned that acute pain usually is a result of illness, excessive strain or injury.

It rises as a useful ‘alarm’ mechanism of the body systems. It is alert that force us to stop what we are doing that about to cause or already causing damage to our body.

Acute pain shows us that something wrong in our body is going on. When injury or damage fades acute, pain is disappearing too.

Chronic pain

Any pain which lasts more than 3 months is called chronic pain. Chronic pain lasts and occurs over and over again.

Usually, due to disease or medical condition, for instance, Lupus
or
arthritis, our body can experience chronic pain.

Oversensitive nervous system or nerve damage is something that could cause chronic pain.

Some treatments can help to reduce certain triggers of chronic pain. In a case you have some of the known chronic diseases (e.g. degenerative nerve disease or disc disease), then monitoring of your health is a major thing, and it is very important. It can help you reduce your pain.

Now, let’s look at different pain types based on the source of the pain.

Pains based on its source

Nerve pain

People explain nerve pain in different ways. Some of them feel stabbing pain that occurs in the middle of the night, but some describe nerve pain as tingling, prickling, or burning that last.

If not controlled, nerve pain can be very difficult to bear. Fortunately, with some medication, adequate treatment, it can be controlled.

As I already said, pain is a ‘warning’ to us that something is going wrong. For example, when you get close to a stove or fire, signals that nerves are sending to our brain are telling us to pull back. If nerves are damaged, the system of sending “messages” to our brain is not working.

When damaged nerves can send ‘false’ signals so you can feel real pain with no cause, or that you are not feeling pain at all even when you are injured.

Bone pain

Extreme aching, tenderness or other discomforts in bones is characterized as bone pain.

Strength of bone pain differs depending on the movements of your body. Very often, bone pain is linked to diseases that influence normal function of bone structure.

Bone pain can be caused by injury, mineral deficiency, metastatic cancer or bone cancer, infections or diseases that suppress blood flow to bones. Also, malignant diseases of bone marrow, like leukemia, can cause bone pain.

Some types of cancer can cause bone pain, no matter if it spread thought the body from other body parts as metastatic cancer, or cancer that originates in bones.

The most common bone pain is caused by injury, resulting in a broken bone. Actually, any damage to the bone can cause bone pain.

Deficiencies in minerals and vitamins also can be the reason for bone pain. Vitamin D is very important to prevent bone diseases, like osteoporosis.

Muscle pain

Muscle pain, aka ‘myalgia’, is widespread. At some point, all of us experienced at least once in a lifetime discomfort or pain in muscles.

Muscle pain can be felt anywhere since nearly all parts of the body contain muscle tissue.

We can feel muscle pain due to different reasons, from simple muscle tension due to demanding work or exercise, to muscle pain caused because of some diseases as well (e.g. autoimmune disorders, infections, problems with the thyroid gland, etc.).

Tip: Muscle elasticity is an essential property of a muscle that will determine its health. And, healthy muscle tissue is less prone to injuries and pain.

Joint pain

Parts of our body where bones meet are called joints. Joint helps our bones to move (elbows, hips, shoulders, knees).

Pain in a joint usually does not require a hospital visit, and it is a common complaint.

Joint pain refers to aches, soreness and discomfort in any of the body joints, including the small ones like those in fingers phalanges.

Of course, like other pains, joint pain can be a result of an injury or illness as well.

The most common cause of joint pain is definitely arthritis. Some of the other conditions that can cause joint pain are cancers, infections, breakdown of cartilage, overuse of a joint, lupus, gout, bursitis, sarcoidosis, osteoporosis, etc.

Emotional pain

This kind of pain can be an ‘addiction’ some the people. Covered with feelings like guilt, sadness, fear or shame, emotional pain can be constant and common and can easily become part of your life, so you just cannot imagine your life without it.

If you continuously experience emotional pain, your body becomes dependent on those feelings. Continual emotional pain needs to be taken seriously.

MediChannel discusses signs and symptoms associated with emotional pain in the depression section.

Pains based on their location

By pain spot, you can figure out what is causing the pain.

Some of the pains can be very serious, like chest pain
which can be a sign that you have a heart attack. The condition that very often can be life-threatening and require hospitalization.

Tip: This is how you differentiate panic attack from a heart attack.

The main differences between nerve and muscle pain are that:

  • muscle pain is usually caused by injury and ones the injury heals, muscle pain subsides, while nerve pain lingers, then, nerve pain is described in more specific ways than muscle pain when you feel soreness and achenes.
  • Pain medicine gives relief for muscle pain but may not be effective with nerve pain.

Let’s look into nerve and muscle pains more in detail.

What is Nerve Pain?

Nerves connect your brain to your body, helping them to communicate and connect. Like wires, they can be damaged or injured and stop functioning the way it supposes to be.

If nerves are damaged, they are sending wrong signals to the brain. As a result, you feel pain, or you don’t feel anything.

In our body, there are three types of nerves:

1. Autonomic nerves – nerves that control partially voluntary and involuntary activities in your body, including temperature regulation and digestion.

2. Motor nerves – nerves that control our actions and movements. These nerves passing information from your spinal cord and brain to your muscles

3. Sensory nerves – nerves that relay information from your muscles and skin back to the brain, to feel pain and other sensations in your body.

As I already mentioned, pain could be a warning sign to our body. If a nerve-damaged, the signals sent to our brain can be ruined as well.

The result when we have damaged nerves in our body is either we feel extreme pain, or we do not feel pain at all.

Some activities or positions, for example, walking or standing in line, can cause pain. If nerves are damaged, your body can also be extremely sensitive. In these cases, some people can feel pain from bed sheet mantled over the body.

You may experience loss of sensation or even numbness in fingertips if nerves are damaged. That makes obstacles to work with your hands, especially some fine work, like typing, knitting, or shoelaces tying. People that have such problems explaining it like you are always wearing a pair of gloves.

At nighttime, nerve pain usually becomes worse. Even the touch of the bed sheets can be very uncomfortable.

Tip: Pressure-relieving heel protectors highly recommended if the pressure on your leg is bothering you or you are prone to bed sores or ulcers.

If you experience such feelings, you suppose to mention that to your doctor. Taking medications or changing your lifestyle can help a lot.

Also, besides dulling sense of touch, damage of your nerves can affect the sense of balance since it results in muscle weakness. In those instances, occupational and physical therapy might help. Assisting devices (canes, walkers or braces) can help too.

If not treated, nerve damage is worsening over time. It usually starts from the brain and spinal cord and can spread to legs and arms.

If the nerve pain is a result of another disease, the good news is, medication for that medical condition can stop it and even reverse the nerve damage.

Nerve pain can be controlled in many cases. Conditions, like shingles, cancer or diabetes, may cause nerve pain.

However, in some cases, there is no known reason for it.

Therefore, one of the most important things is to find the underlying cause of nerve pain and find adequate treatment for it.

It is necessary to find and the best treatment for the nerve pain. Over the counter (OTC) pain killers are the first treatment (for example, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, as well as other analgesics). Some creams, gels, ointments or spray can be applied on the skin.

Besides medications, alternative or complementary treatments may help. Acupuncture may ease nerve pain. Taking supplements, especially vitamin B-12 could help as well.

Prevention is the key to avoid nerve pain, which means all of us are responsible for our health, by getting regular exercise, improving diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Tip: Stick with reactive hypoglycemia food list, type 2 diabetes food list or diabetic gastroparesis food list, depending on your blood glucose challenges.

What is Muscle Pain?

Almost everybody experienced aching, sore muscle pain at least once in a lifetime. Whole-body or just a small part can be involved. It can be mild or severe.

The medical term for muscle pain is myalgia.

It is also known that most of the muscle pain fade away within a short time of period, but sometimes it can last for months.

Muscle pain can appear anywhere in your body, legs or arms, back, neck and even in your hands.

Stress, overuse, minor injuries or tension are the most common causes of muscle pain. Al listed are usually localized, affecting only a small part of your body, or just a few muscles.

Pain that spreads throughout your whole body is systemic muscle pain and can be a result of side effects of medication or more often an infection.

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Common causes of muscle pain are:

Flu,

Lupus,

Lyme disease,

Muscle cramp,

Polymyalgia rheumatica,

Hypothyroidism,

Dystonia,

Rheumatoid arthritis,

Sprains,

Myofascial pain syndrome,

Fibromyalgia,

Dermatomyositis, etc.

Tip: Remember, fever can cause hallucinations in some circumstances.

Characteristics of Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Muscle pain

Disorders of bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, bursae or combination can cause muscle or musculoskeletal pain. As we said previously the most common cause is an injury.

When we are talking about bone pain, it is usually deep penetrating or dull. Again, often caused by injury, but bone pain can be caused by infection as well.

We can describe muscle pain as ‘sore and achy’. Myalgia can be a deep, constant, dull ache, or a sharp, sporadic ache. It can worsen with movement. This pain can be mild, moderate, but severe as well. When feeling discomfort in a muscle, you can feel pain in your joints as well. When pain in muscles is persistent, you might feel depressed (or overly tired)

Tip: Feeling fatigued most of the time? You may eligible for a disability claim.

Charley horse

Myalgia, muscle pain is less intensive than bone pain, but still very unpleasant. Muscle spasm or cramp is very severe pain called Charley horse.

Charley horse is caused by injury of muscle, infection, or tumor, but also as a result of the loss of blood flow to the muscle.

Polymialgia rheumatica

Polymialgia rheumatica is causing very sharp intense pain and stiffness in shoulders, neck, hips and upper and lower back. Muscle affected with pain can be localized on one muscle or a few of them, or even on the whole body, depending on the cause.

If muscle pain is localized on one muscle, then it is probably injury that caused the pain. But, if the pain is spread through the whole body, then cause might be an infection or some other disease, or even side effect of medication.

Nerve pain

You can feel nerve pain in different ways.

For some people, it is a stabbing pain in the middle of the night, but for some other people, it can be chronic prickling pain, tingling or burning that can last the whole day.

Uncontrolled nerve pain can be hard to bear.

Muscle pain is usually caused by injury, but nerve pain can be a symptom of many dangerous diseases like cancer or HIV. It can be devastating and frustrating for some people.

You might sense pinpricks or burning, or even pain like a sudden electric shock. It can completely derange your life at work and home.

People with nerve pain commonly have sleeping disorders.

It does not go away easily when using pain killers, comparing to muscle pain where pain killers can give relief.

Tip: Do you struggle to sleep through the night? If so, follow the link to learn more.

Common locations of Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Muscle pain

As we already mentioned, there are several potential outcomes can result from a muscle pain, which we can divide it into two groups, the ones ‘localized’ and ‘systemic’ muscle pain and their outcomes.

Localized muscle pain

A localized pain in the muscle is focal, concentrated around one or group of the muscles.

One of them is muscle strain that commonly appears as a result of exercise or sudden movement. When playing basketball, for instance, you may stretch or strain (tear) calf muscle.

Muscle spasm or cramp is a contraction of the muscle and usually is isolated into one of the muscles, for example in leg calf (aka Charley horse).

There are several causes for spasm, like improper stretching, dehydration, extreme heat, improper stretching, but also some underlying diseases could be the reason for spasm, like cirrhosis or peripheral artery disease.

Muscle contusion is also one of the localized muscle pains that usually happen after an injury.

Myofascial pain syndrome occurs when a group of muscles are involved. It is usually situated at the neck or above each shoulder.

A rare disorder called compartment syndrome occurs when group muscles are involved. There are two types of this disorder:

Acute compartment syndrome – when pain comes suddenly, constant and extreme, described as a burn or ache.

Chronic compartment syndrome – this occurs gradually during exercise. It goes away after 30 minutes of rest, unlike acute compartment syndrome. Chronic compartment syndrome can be localized anywhere in the body.

Pyomyositis, infection of the muscle, and it is usually localized in thigh, buttock or calf muscles. If this condition is not treated, it can be spread to other organs like the brain, heart or lungs.

Systemic muscle pain

Opposite to localized muscle pain, systemic muscle pain is felt through your body and very often is related to the medication side effect, underlying disease or infection.

Nerve pain

Same as muscle pain, nerve pain can be localized to one, or group of nerves. It can be due to the problems in the brain or spinal cord, or it can be in the nerves that run through some organs or muscles.

If the pain is localized in the lower back, accompanied with pins and needles and weakness in the leg, then we call it sciatica.

Chronic pain that is associated with aching and burning pain and can be located in different parts of the body is called fibromyalgia.

When peripheral nerves are damaged, then peripheral neuropathy occurs, and that pain is usually in your hands or feet. Also, other parts of your body can be affected.

Tip: Here are the signs and symptoms of sciatica nerve pain.

Tip: Did you know spinal disc protrusion, disc prolapse, and bulging
can lead to back pain and sciatica? But, the good news is most of the bulged discs can heal on its own.

Causes of Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Muscle pain

Overuse, injury, stress, some autoimmune diseases, muscle disorders and neurological deficiencies can be the causes for muscle pain.

Causes of muscle pain can be physical and psychological.

Nerve pain

Causes of nerve pain also can be physical and psychological. Nerve pain can be spontaneous, evoked and hypoalgesia.

Some people might develop nerve pain due to no known reason, but some of them can be due to problems such as diabetes, cancer or some other diseases.

Neuropathic pain can develop for many reasons, and it is on the cellular level. Increased release of neurotransmitters which signal pain leads to a sensation of pain in the affected region. Changes in neurotransmitters and to the normal function of cell bodies result in pain. Such pains can be associated with certain types of cancer, toxins, injuries, vitamin B deficiency, infections, other nerve-related diseases, diabetes, alcohol intake and certain drugs.

Comparing to muscle pain which is usually caused by injury, nerve pain is mostly caused by diseases, but can be caused by injury as well but not that often like in muscle pain.

Tip: Depending on the location and character of the pain, the reasons for it differ. Here are the causes for upper back pain, lower back pain, groin pain, upper leg pain, knee pain, calf pain and foot pain.

Remedies of Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Muscle pain

When it comes to the treatment of muscle pain, it is a big question of whether ice or heat should be used. Some expert says that indirect ice should be used wrapped in a thin towel, while heat might feel pleasant but not lessen the damage.

If you have sore, painful muscles you might use no steroidal anti-inflammatory drug bought over the counter, or rest affected muscle.

Sore muscles sometimes require more than taking medication over the counter or ice pack, or resting the muscle. If your pain lasts more than a few days, then you should contact your doctor.

Nerve pain

Many prescription drugs, besides over the counter ones, can be used to ease nerve pain. Some of the medicines, besides powerful painkillers, are originally used for seizures or depression, but also have efficacy in reducing pain. Since some of those medicines that are prescribed for other conditions can cause side effects, your doctor supposes to make a treatment plan for your condition.

Using supplements (such as B12 vitamin, alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-l-carnitine, magnesium or calcium) also can reduce symptoms of these two conditions. Supplements can even reverse your symptoms.

Treatments of Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Nerve pain

Beside remedies for the treatment of muscle and nerve pain, many self–care and home treatments can improve your overall health. If some of the diseases are causing your pain, then you need to treat those diseases first and keeping it/them under control.

For instance, if you have diabetes, you need to keep blood sugar under control to avoid diabetic nerve pain.

Tip: Here is what MediChannel thinks about the smart Dario blood glucose monitor.

Good exercise may create long-lasting expansion in blood vessels, that nourishing damaged nerves. It is good to make a good exercise plan and start walking every day, increasing distance and pace.

Take care of your feet. Examine your feet every day, wear comfortable shoes and see a good diabetes doctor regularly.

The easiest and least expensive home treatment is soaking your feet. That increases blood flow in your legs and can help ease the stress away.

Please stop consuming alcohol as much as you can, since toxin in alcohol worsens nerve pain.

It would be good to avoid afternoon consumption of caffeine
and keep consistent eight hours sleep. Also, you might use creams made from hot chili peppers, which can help when used for weeks. Some people report improvement in nerve pain and less burning.

Botanical oils are also a good pain reliever, and it can ease postherpetic neuralgia.

Some essential oils, like lavender oil, can relax you and help mind off nerve pain.

Muscle pain

Same as nerve pain, muscle pain can be treated with all the above-mentioned treatments, but the easiest one is to rest area of the body where you are experiencing muscle pain and aches.

Dietary and lifestyle tips can help, as well.

Acupuncture is a practice that dates back 2,500 years to Chine. It involves the application of needles to certain points on the body. Unfortunately, acupuncture is not entirely accepted in the medical world, while some studies show that this technique actually boots levels of natural body painkiller (endorphin). This method helps to relieve SCI pain, and it is inexpensive and noninvasive when compared to many other pain treatments.

One of the treatments that have been used as well is hypnosis.

A visual imagery therapy, to modify guided images, it helps some people to change the perception of discomfort.

Using Botox, botulinum toxin injection is also commonly used to treat focal spasticity that might affect pain.

How to prevent Muscle Pain and Nerve Pain

Muscle pain

To avoid aching muscles due to stress or tension, people usually practice the following:

  • exercising on a regular basis to keep the muscles toned,
  • definitely, you must stretch before exercising,
  • taking frequent breaks (waling or stretching) if sitting for a long period,
  • warming before and after exercise practice cooling,
  • increasing activities in small steps, not big leaps.
  • And, the advice is to drink a lot of fluids all the time, before, during and after work out.

Nerve pain

To prevent neuropathic pain, you are supposed first of all live a healthy life, and to be educated regarding pain-causing health conditions, especially if you are with a greater risk of developing this kind of pain (e.g. with diabetes).

Combining the reinforcement of medical and behavioral interventions can lead to great preventive benefits.

Prevention for neuropathic pain includes vaccine, herpes zoster prevention, which can reduce infections in people over 50 years of age.

Secondary prevention in people experienced an injury, illness or treatment that can cause neuropathic pain is also important. Proper management of health conditions, like in diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus, may prevent the occurrence of neuropathic pain.

No matter if you feel muscle or nerve pain, the first thing you want to know is to find relief. The beneficial thing is to understand the root of the problem, the cause of your pain. If you know is the pain you feel nerve or muscle pain that could be the first step for finding the relief.

As we already mentioned, muscle pain, or better to say musculoskeletal pain, is caused explicitly by injuries, falls or direct knock to the muscle. Improper alignment or posture of the muscle or muscle overuse can cause the pain as well.

Tip: If there are wounds associated with your injury, always stick with best wound dressings to heal them fast. The negative pressure wound therapy can enhance the process too.

Unlike muscle pain, nerve pain is usually caused by chronic diseases, like chronic kidney disease, diabetes or infections (herpes zoster) or Lyme disease. Pressure from other parts of the body or trauma can cause neuralgia too and can result in pain in the nerves.

Tip: Learn the differences between back pain and kidney pain to identify the two better. Remember, kidney pain is a medical emergency.

Experience of pain is different, if we are talking about muscle pain, people usually describe it as stiffness or aching, and it is usually localized to the affected muscle itself. You might experience trouble sleeping, feel pain when using muscle, and feel fatigued.

Tip: Extreme tiredness can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness. They are two different well-defined symptoms though.

Nerve pain people describe as burning, tingling, numbness or crushing and sharp.

Nerve pain is chronic, unlike muscle pain. Nerve pain lasts for a longer time of period, comparing to muscle pain which endures for a shorter time of period and improves after taking pain killers or resting for some time.

While nerve pain killers would not help to cure the condition completely, they can improve your situation, but only temporarily.

Summary

The best strategies to help yourself if you are experiencing muscle pain is to:

  • rest affected muscle,
  • acupuncture,
  • physical therapy,
  • applying heat or cold packs,
  • therapeutic massage,
  • stretching exercises,
  • anti-inflammatory medications,
  • pain killers,
  • visiting a chiropractor.

Tip: Thumper massager seems to work well on managing chronic pains.

To manage back pain or some other type of muscle pain, it is very important to prevent further injury by bed posture, or lifting, the lousy position of your body. You should maintain proper posture by using safety gear, adequate lift techniques, and strengthen muscles for additional support.

Always communicate with your physician for extra help. To alleviate any pain, you should consult your physician. Only a doctor can accurately identify and treat your symptoms and any underlying diseases.

To relieve nerve pain, you also should consult your doctor, who can prescribe medical treatments like

  • skin patches,
  • oral medication,
  • injections,
  • acupuncture,
  • biofeedback,
  • spinal cord stimulator type device,
  • physical therapy,
  • ablation therapy, or
  • even some medications that are used initially for seizures or depression.

Definitely, treatment will depend on your condition, of how much pain is affecting your life and health factors.

No matter you are fighting with a nerve or muscle pain, you don’t need to suffer with it longer unnecessarily. The best possible thing is to prevent muscle or nerve pain is to treat your body preciously, and live a healthy lifestyle. When you already have some of the diseases that causing pain, you should keep that primary disease under control to avoid further progression of the disease and along with that muscle or nerve pain.

These two problems, muscle and nerve pain, seem very similar, and very easily confused, but they required a different approach to treatment.

Tip: To manage diabetes well, monitoring your blood hbA1c levels is equally important as accurate blood sugar level monitoring.

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