Polymyalgia Rheumatica

What is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

Widespread aching and stiffness affecting the lower back, upper arms, neck, or thighs may the result of a condition called Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR). With symptoms frequently appearing later in life, the fairly common inflammatory condition is usually manageable with medication. PMR is different from arthritis and fibromyalgia in that discomfort isn’t relegated to joints and symptoms improve throughout the day.

What are the Symptoms of Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

There is no known cause of polymyalgia rheumatica, although its sudden onset suggests an infection may be the source, but none has been identified. PMR is characterized by morning muscle stiffness that usually lasts for about any hour or so. Pain and stiffness may return later after prolonged periods of sitting or remaining in one position. There’s research suggesting PMR-related pain originates from joints and is experienced in nearby areas (referred pain).

Related difficulties linked to PMR may include:

  • Trouble getting dressed in the morning
  • Difficulty getting up from a seated position
  • Problems sleeping or staying asleep

Polymyalgia Rheumatica Causes

The precise cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown. However, there is some understanding in the medical community regarding possible causes.


There are specific genes and gene variations that are likely to make you more susceptible to developing polymyalgia rheumatica. A doctor can do genetic testing to determine if this is the case in your situation by looking for the presence of these known genes and variations.

Environmental Exposure

A person with polymyalgia rheumatica almost certainly will have the symptoms seasonally or in some type of cycles. A virus is one of the environmental factors that can bring about this disorder. Researchers have not been able to determine which virus could cause polymyalgia rheumatica.

Giant cell arteritis is a medical condition which shares similarities with polymyalgia rheumatica. They may even be the same disease, just with different presenting symptoms.

How is Polymyalgia Rheumatica Treated?

Diagnosis usually involves a blood test and a muscle biopsy to confirm PMR. Treatment is almost always centered around finding the right dosage of corticosteroids. While patients tend to respond well to low doses, if the dose is too low, symptoms may recur. Due to this sensitivity to corticosteroids, dosage adjustments are often gradual to allow time to see how a patient’s pain level will be affected.

Some patients who have PMR also have giant cell arteritis, an inflammation of the lining of the arteries, although the link isn’t clear. While symptoms can often be successfully managed, the condition itself often continues intermittently. Seniors living with other joint issues tend to be at a greater risk of experiencing a relapse, which usually requires continued steroid therapy to minimize stiffness and muscle aches.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica Symptoms Prevention

It is a good idea to receive physical therapy if you have not been physically active for some time due to polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms. Speak to your doctor to find out if you should try physical therapy to improve your coordination and strength. It could make a big difference when it comes to performing your daily tasks.


One of the major treatments for polymyalgia rheumatica is the corticosteroid prednisone. After only a few days of taking it, the patient is likely to feel a great deal of relief from their stiffness and pain. If the initial treatment does not appear to help, your doctor most likely will refer you to a rheumatologist for further investigation.


It is important that the patient and doctor pay close attention to any effects of taking corticosteroids. Negative effects, such as bone loss, can be prevented and lessened by taking vitamin D and calcium supplements that have been prescribed by your doctor.