Polymyalgia Rheumatica: A Common Cause Of Muscle Pain

What Is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

shoulder pain

Polymalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that causes pain and stiffness in muscles – particularly the shoulders. It is most commonly found in individuals over the age of 50 and symptoms are usually most severe early in the morning immediately after waking.


The exact cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown, although it is thought to be related to an individual’s genetics. There has been research showing that polymyalgia rheumatica may be linked to certain environmental triggers that occur seasonally, since many experience symptoms predominantly when the seasons change.


While there is only one official type of polymyalgia rheumatica, there is another condition that is so closely related, it is often considered a sub-type of the condition. Giant cell arteritis is a condition that results in inflammation of the arterial lining, causing headaches, vision problems, and in severe cases, stroke. Over half of the patients with giant cell arteritis also have polymyalgia rheumatica and the two conditions are thought to be closely related.


  • Shoulder pain and aches
  • Pain and stiffness in the neck, hips, or upper arms
  • Pain and stiffness in the wrists, elbows or knees
  • Limited range of motion
  • Mild fever
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression



Pain in the highlighted areas can be an indicator of polymyalgia rheumatica.

In order to diagnose polymyalgia rheumatica, your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam and have you perform certain exercises to assess your range of motion. They will likely order blood tests to look for indicators of inflammation, such as elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein. To rule out other conditions that can result in similar symptoms, your doctor may order diagnostic imaging such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.


While there is no cure for polymyalgia rheumatica, symptoms can be managed with medication. The most commonly used medications for this condition are corticosteroids, which work by reducing the inflammation of the muscles. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements also help to alleviate the symptoms of this condition by strengthening the bones. It is recommended that patients with polymyalgia rheumatica do physical therapy, to keep their muscles active and prevent them from atrophy.

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