What is polymyalgia rheumatica

What is polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory condition and type of arthritis, which affects the muscles. It does not affect the bones or joints.

Who is at risk from polymyalgia rheumatica?

Women develop polymyalgia rheumatica more often than men. It often appears in women over the age of 50 and it is predominantly seen in Caucasian women.


The cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown. It is believed that swelling of the blood vessels in the muscles causes pain. Genetic factors may play a role in the disease. Some people who have polymyalgia rheumatica have a relative with the disease.


There is severe pain and stiffness in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, upper arms, lower back, hips and thighs. Although muscles are sore, they do not become weak. Other symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica include low energy and fatigue, loss of appetite, slight fever and anaemia.


A physical examination will be carried out. In some cases diagnosis may involved a biopsy, which involves cutting away a very small segment of muscle for analysis in a laboratory. A test called an elevated sedimentation rate (ESR) may be used to detect abnormally high levels of red blood cells in the muscles, a common feature of the condition.

Another test, an EMG (electromyography) may be used in diagnosis. This test uses electrodes taped to the skin to record the electric activity in the muscles.


Oral steroids are the main form of treatment and they usually bring about an improvement of symptoms in a matter of days. Treatment may last six months to a year.

Exercise is also important to reduce pain and improve the muscles. Low-impact exercises like swimming, walking and water aerobics can all help to reduce pain and keep up strength and flexibility. A health professional’s advice should be sought first. Applying heat (hot shower) can reduce pain and relax aching muscles, and applying cold (ice pack) to an area can help relieve pain and swelling.