Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Polymyalgia rheumatica

2-minute read

Polymyalgia rheumatica causes inflammation in the joints and the surrounding tissues. It can make your muscles feel painful and stiff, especially in your shoulders, neck and hips. It usually affects older adults. However, when treated, symptoms can improve rapidly and may eventually disappear altogether.

What causes polymyalgia rheumatica?

Doctors do not know what causes polymyalgia rheumatica. Genetics might play a part. Maybe an infection might trigger the condition in some people.

Polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms

Polymyalgia rheumatica simply means ‘pain in many muscles’. People with the condition might have:

  • pain and stiffness in the limbs, shoulders, neck and buttocks, which might be worse in the morning or after not moving for a while
  • a limited range of motion in the joints

The muscular pain can come on overnight, or it can come on slowly. It might be mild, or it might be severe enough to cause you a lot of trouble getting about.

Some people have other symptoms such as:

  • feeling unwell or tired
  • mild fever
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • difficulty sleeping, or feeling very tired
  • depression

If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

If you have any of these symptoms as well as a severe headache, blurred vision or double vision, see your doctor or go to an emergency department within 24 hours. There is a condition called giant cell arteritis, which occasionally develops in people with polymyalgia rheumatica. People with giant cell arteritis need urgent treatment.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is usually diagnosed after a physical examination by your doctor. A blood test to look at levels of inflammation may also be recommended.

However, there is no single test for polymyalgia rheumatica and it may take a few visits for the doctor to rule out forms of arthritis with similar symptoms.

Polymyalgia rheumatica treatment

Once diagnosed, polymyalgia rheumatica can be treated with corticosteroids. You may need to start on a high dose to bring the symptoms under control before the dose is reduced to the minimum needed to keep you symptom-free. You will also probably be prescribed pain killers.

Most people find their symptoms improve quickly after starting treatment, but treatment is usually needed for two or three years.

Corticosteroids can have unwanted side effects, so it is important to see your doctor regularly. To avoid these, your doctor might also suggest you take calcium and vitamin D supplements or other medicines. You may be able to limit the side effects by:

Sometimes polymyalgia rheumatic is with you for life. Sometimes it goes away with treatment and doesn’t come back.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Polymyalgia rheumatica — Arthritis Australia

Polymyalgia rheumatica means ‘pain in many muscles’

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica -

Find out about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis (also known as temporal arteritis) and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR).

Read more on myDr website

Polymyalgia Rheumatica — Symptoms & Treatments | MSK Australia

Do you have Polymyalgia Rheumatica? Find out more about your musculoskeletal condition, how to manage, and where to find support. Call 1800 263 265

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Types of arthritis — Arthritis Australia

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of joint disease

Read more on Arthritis Australia website

Neuromuscular disorders - Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Lupus real lives | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Real life stories of people living with lupus (SLE). How they were diagnosed, how they live with disease, and how research has an impact.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Concussion -

Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that results in sudden onset of neurological symptoms that resolve spontaneously over a varying period of time.

Read more on myDr website

Autoimmune diseases - Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)

Autoimmune diseases are a broad range of related diseases in which a person’s immune system produces an inappropriate response against its own cells, tissues and/or organs. This results in inflammation and damage. There are over 80 different autoimmune diseases, ranging from common to very rare. These diseases can be localised to a single organ or tissue, or generalised (systemic), affecting many body organs and tissues.

Read more on ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy website

Arthritis — Symptoms, Treatment, & Causes | MSK Australia

Arthritis is a term that refers to many different conditions. Find out more about Arthritis, how you can manage, and where to find support. Call: 1800 263 265

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Osteoporosis treatment options -

Osteoporosis treatment choices (including medicines and lifestyle measures) are based on your age, sex, general health, the severity of your osteoporosis and the likelihood of you breaking a bone. 

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.