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What Is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory condition that causes widespread aching and stiffness, particularly in older adults. The precise cause is unknown. Some researchers believe that polymyalgia rheumatica may be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks healthy connective tissues. Genetic and environmental factors (such as infections) are thought to play a role in its development.

The areas of the body most affected by polymyalgia rheumatica are the neck, upper arms, lower back and upper thighs. While the discomfort often resembles muscle pain, many experts believe that its source is actually inflammation in the shoulder and hip joints, and therefore the pain felt in the upper arms and thighs is referred from nearby joints.

What Are the Symptoms of Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

The symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica tend to come on quickly, often over a few days or weeks. Usually, both sides of the body are equally affected. The achiness generally worsens with rest and improves with physical activity. In some cases, severe stiffness leads to:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty getting dressed (for instance, it can be difficult to raise the arms to put on a jacket or bend over to put on socks and shoes)
  • Difficulty standing up from a seating position or getting out of a car

Polymyalgia rheumatica can also cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite and unintended weight loss.

How Is Polymyalgia Rheumatica Treated?

Treatment of polymyalgia rheumatica focuses on reducing inflammation and easing stiffness, achiness, fatigue and fever. These symptoms can often be effectively managed with a combination of:

  • Medication – Corticosteroids are the mainstay of polymyalgia rheumatica treatment. With a relatively low dose of these powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, the symptoms typically improve quickly. Mild symptoms can also be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Physical activity – Regular exercise can be helpful for maintaining joint flexibility, muscle strength and function. Some particularly beneficial activities include walking, cycling and swimming.
  • Rest – Sufficient sleep is important to allow the body time to heal and recover.

Polymyalgia rheumatica often resolves on its own, but the process can take up to five years or longer.

The Important Role of a Specialist

As a complex condition that is not yet well understood, polymyalgia rheumatica can be challenging to diagnose and treat. Therefore, it’s best to consult with an experienced specialist. In Houston, TX, you will find the necessary expertise at Advanced Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Contact us to request an appointment with a rheumatologist today.