Someone experiencing deep muscle pain due to polymyositis.

Polymyositis affects your muscles. It begins by inflaming and weakening the muscles near your abdomen and can move to other muscles as it progresses. It occurs in adults in their 30s to 60s and is more often reported by women.

Treatments can help manage symptoms and decrease the likelihood of flares. You may not have any symptoms if the condition is well managed.

Polymyositis is a type of idiopathic inflammatory myopathy (IIM). These are considered systematic autoimmune disorders, and they affect your skeletal muscles.

There is not a specific cause of this condition or other IIMs. Risk factors that may contribute to it include:

  • Immune system disorders can be related.
  • There are viral infections.
  • There are disorders of the connective tissue.
  • There are breathing diseases.
  • There is a risk for cancer cells.

“You may have other risk factors in your family history that increase the likelihood of developing it, even if you don’t have a genetic link to it.”

The most obvious symptoms of the condition concern your muscles. Weakness, pain, or tenderness may occur first in the muscles attached to your abdomen and move to other muscle groups, including:

Even more muscles can be affected over time, including your forearms, hands, fingers, and toes.

Other symptoms can be related to muscle weakness.

You may notice that your movements are different because of the condition.

  • falling
  • It can be difficult to pick yourself up from the ground or seated.
  • Difficult climbing stairs.
  • It was difficult to lift heavy objects.
  • inability to reach for objects
Illustration by Alexis Lira

A doctor will need to officially diagnose polymyositis. This visit could involve:

  • discussing your symptoms
  • getting a physical exam
  • Your family and personal health history is reviewed.
  • using blood tests to look for and identify certain autoantibodies
  • The doctor will need to look at your muscles and nerves with the help of an image.
  • A muscle biopsy can help determine if your muscles are swollen, injured, or altered.

The doctor can use these tools to make an accurate assessment of your condition and start you on the right treatment plan.

You may want to keep a journal of your symptoms and talk to your family about your medical history before your appointment.

Polymyositis vs. dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis is an IIM but has additional symptoms that affect the skin. Children and adults can have this condition.

Your doctor can determine the type of IIM you have through blood tests, imaging scans, and a muscle biopsy. Up to 6 percent of people with dermatomyositis do not have symptoms on their skin.

The skin has some symptoms.

  • There are small bumps on the knuckle.
  • swollen rash that is blue or purple in color
  • It may turn into redness.
  • Altered or thickened cuticles.
  • The skin around the fingers is cracked.

The sun can cause these symptoms.

“There is no cure for the condition, but you can treat it so that it doesn’t get worse for a long time. It is possible that your symptoms will become so controlled with treatment that you won’t need to take anything to manage the condition.”

The type of treatment you receive depends on where you are in the progression of the condition. Consult with your doctor about the right plan for you. Medication for the condition can include:

  • corticosteroids taken orally daily or intermittently for short periods of time
  • immunosuppressants for long-term treatment
  • Ignite is a possible treatment for symptoms.

Nonmedication treatments for polymyositis

The best results are provided by these treatments when used in conjunction with medical treatments.

“The condition can get worse if treatment is delayed. Do not assume that home-based treatments will take care of it. This can delay proper diagnosis and treatment. It can affect parts of your body that you can’t see or feel.”

Is walking good for polymyositis?

Your doctor could consider exercise a treatment method for the condition.

Studies have concluded that exercise may reduce symptoms and inflammatory markers and improve muscle tissue for those with polymyositis.

Before you engage in your activity, be aware of it. Do not try to exert yourself. Make sure to stretch before and after doing harder and longer exercises. Do not exercise with symptoms.

It may be useful to consult a physical therapist to learn more about proper exercises for the condition. Your physical therapist may recommend a low impact activity like walking and may likely have more tips for how to avoid overdoing it and triggering your symptoms.

Polymyositis and pregnancy

If you have polymyositis, you are at increased risk of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure more often if you have this condition and are pregnant to avoid complications.

If you are considering becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor. They can help you with a treatment plan.

Living with polymyositis can vary from person to person. Active symptoms of the condition could disappear with medical and lifestyle treatments. You may need to take medications like immunosuppressants for several years before the symptoms diminish completely. Many people recover completely from this condition.

Polymyositis is not usually considered life threatening. However, severe cases of the condition that do not respond well to treatment or that go untreated may result in:

Polymyositis affects your muscles and other parts of your body. It is a rare condition that is often treated.

Your doctor can help you determine a treatment plan that works for you, and can perform a range of tests to diagnose the condition.

You will likely need medication to manage your symptoms. If you live with the condition, you can benefit from exercising, getting enough rest, and eating well. Your symptoms may be alleviated with the right management plan.