Anemia and Muscle Pain: Why This Happens and What You Can Do

For optimum health, it's crucial to be aware of the symptoms of anemia

Daniesha Govender
By Daniesha Govender
Jovan Mijailovic
Edited by Jovan Mijailovic

Published March 7, 2024.

A woman sitting on a couch using a laptop computer.

Anemia is one of the most common blood disorders. In fact, an estimated 3 million people in the United States already have it. [1]

Low hemoglobin levels can cause anemia. [2] It can also happen due to a low red blood cell count, which results in muscle pain and fatigue. So, let's look at the reasons behind this and what you can do to improve your condition.

An overview of anemia and muscle pain

Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues. When it's in short supply, muscles don't get the oxygen they need, leading to pain and fatigue.

Larger muscles need a significant amount of blood and oxygen to function. They have to work harder when they don't get enough, which results in cramps.

Muscle pain can be a warning sign of underlying anemic conditions. You should consult a healthcare professional if you have unexplained muscle pain.

Muscle pain in anemic individuals often manifests as fatigue and weakness. Activities that were once easy for you might suddenly become challenging. The pain is typically widespread and not confined to specific patterns.

Recognizing and addressing the root cause of anemia helps you manage muscle discomfort effectively.

Symptoms of anemia

Low iron levels lead to deficiency, which can contribute to muscle and joint pain in several ways:

  • Oxygen deficiency: A low red blood cell count means less oxygen is delivered, leading to muscle and joint fatigue.
  • Tissue damage: Lack of oxygen can cause tissue inflammation and pain.
  • Reduced blood flow: Anemia can limit the delivery of nutrients to muscles and joints, increasing stiffness.
  • Increased lactic acid: Muscles deprived of oxygen produce more lactic acid, leading to cramps.
  • Weakened muscles: Over time, anemia can weaken muscles. This makes them more susceptible to pain and injury.

Difference between iron deficiency and anemia

Iron plays a crucial role in delivering oxygen to your muscles. While its deficiency and anemia can cause muscle pain, they are unique conditions with distinct symptoms.

  • Iron deficiency is when your body lacks sufficient iron, which can lead to low hemoglobin levels in red blood cells.
  • Anemia is when you don't have enough healthy red blood cells.

Did you know?

Anemia can cause body aches due to reduced oxygen delivery. When your muscles don't get enough oxygen, they become fatigued and sore. It can also induce inflammation, adding to the discomfort.

How long does it take to recover from iron deficiency?

Recovery time from iron deficiency varies. Mild cases might improve in a few weeks with the proper treatment and diet, while severe ones can take up to several months. [3] Regular blood tests are crucial to monitor progress.

Can you be hospitalized for low iron?

Some extreme cases where low iron levels lead to hospitalization. The patients usually get treatment that might include intravenous iron infusions, blood transfusions, and ones addressing the root cause.

Iron absorption and elimination

Our body absorbs iron from the food we eat. This happens in the small intestine and involves plant-based (non-heme) and animal-based (heme) iron. Once absorbed, transferrin, a protein stored in the liver, transports it.

The body then uses iron for various functions, and any excess is eliminated through natural processes like shedding skin and intestinal cells.

Did you know?

Factors like vitamin C intake, the type of food consumed, and certain medications can influence how well our body absorbs iron.

Expert tips for managing muscle pain in anemia

Individuals struggling with anemia should focus on addressing the underlying cause, which is usually low iron levels.

If you're experiencing muscle pain due to anemia, consider the following:

  • Dietary changes: Incorporate iron-rich foods like lean meats, beans, and leafy greens.
  • Supplements: Consider taking iron supplements, but always under medical supervision.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise moderation: If pain is severe, avoid strenuous activities.
  • Seek medical advice: Always consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Unraveling the anemia-muscle pain connection

Recognizing and addressing the symptoms of anemia is crucial, not just for those directly affected but also for healthcare professionals who want to provide comprehensive care.

While InsideTracker doesn't diagnose medical conditions, it provides detailed biomarker assessments, customized strategies, and abundant resources to stay informed about your health. If you have any medical concerns, please consult a qualified professional.