Feature Article

Muscle pain and cramps

Katrina Reardon, Steven Collins, Edward Byrne



When do muscle pain and cramps indicate a serious underlying muscle or systemic disorder? The tips in this article will aid in appropriate diagnosis and investigation.

Key Points

  • Generally, only when the muscle cramps or pain are diffuse, frequent or persistent is a thorough clinical evaluation needed to establish whether the cause is benign or a specific identifiable disorder.
  • The distribution of the pain and its relationship to exercise can aid diagnosis.
  • Pain that is restricted to one limb or to a region is likely to have a local cause or be locally referred.
  • Persistent ‘whole body pain’ from ‘head to foot’ is usually psychogenic.
  • Ask about medications being take by the patient, and whether there is any family history of muscle pain or other neuromuscular disorder.
  • Look for any associated symptoms to suggest a systemic or endocrine disturbance.
  • Define and treat the specific cause when possible.