Polymyalgia Rheumatica Symptoms

If you're not sure whether what you're suffering is PMR, then you will want to read more about the typical polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms. 
 
The cardinal symptoms of PMR, which doctors are taught to look out for, are bilateral shoulder pain and/or pain in the pelvic girdle (hips), and ‘morning stiffness’.
 
There is a lot of debate about the issue of morning stiffness, as doctors are beginning to realise that this stiffness can last all day. You might find that, after sitting down for half an hour, you feel so rigid you can hardly stand up again.
 
Bilateral shoulder pain means that both shoulders are significantly affected. This means that if you are suffering pain in one shoulder, it’s likely to be something other than PMR. Personally, I suffered terribly with the pain. Sometimes it felt as though there was a vice around my hips, and I'd regularly wake up with an intense pain in both my shoulders. My husband told me that I used to cry out with pain in my sleep.
                                                                
Aching of both shoulders, and/or pelvic girdle aching
                    
I got used to aching shoulders a long time ago. Most of us working in sedentary jobs are familiar with the chronic tension in our shoulders and necks, reaching a crescendo by the end of the day, bringing on the classic ‘tension headache’ on the journey home.
 
The pain of PMR was different for me though. My customary shoulder tension and ache was around my shoulder blades. The PMR pain seemed to start right on the ridge of my shoulders and radiate up into my neck and down into my upper arms. Getting dressed and brushing my hair became particularly painful.
 
It wasn’t until I started to find it really difficult getting up from my office chair that I realised the pain was spreading. I was feeling it deeper in my body, deep down inside the muscles. I knew at the same time that my actual shoulder and hip joints (the bones themselves) were absolutely fine. So much so that it used to irritate me beyond reason when some kind-hearted soul would ask ‘And how are your joints today?’
 
For some PMR sufferers who have the illness particularly severely, the pain is intense. It is more, far more, than feeling a bit achy.
The pain of PMR is felt in the proximal muscles. These are the large muscles that connect the limbs to the body and provide the engines for the joints that move our arms, legs and head. They extend from the upper limbs onto the trunk, and are aided by a complex system of tendons, ligaments, and of course, arteries, that provide fuel in the form of oxygenated blood. In some people, there is also pain in the hands.
 
Morning stiffness
                    
Ah, morning stiffness. This one makes me smile, as I felt stiff all the time. That phrase ‘morning stiffness’ often raises a hollow laugh among groups of PMR sufferers. Everyone is familiar with the sensation of waking up feeling as though our limbs and back have turned into MDF during the night. In a healthy person, a bit of stretching will get everything moving again. Not so with polymyalgia rheumatica. People with PMR tell stories of having to be physically manhandled into a sitting position by a long-suffering partner.
                    
There were times, in the early hours of the morning, when I would cry out in pain, half-asleep, and my husband would patiently get out of bed, come round to my side, and turn me over. What must it be like for people on their own? I heard about one lady who tied a rope to rails on the foot of her bed so that she could haul herself up inch by inch like a mountain climber. Other people have taken to sleeping in an armchair (not recommended).
                    
The stiffness is not only present in the morning. A large proportion of sufferers report that they experience stiffness whenever they have been sitting or standing still for any length of time, at any time of the day. Drivers, on reaching their destination, have to lift their legs up to put them outside the car and plant their feet on the ground. In meetings, we have to get up and walk around to loosen ourselves up. Otherwise, we make an exhibition of ourselves when the meeting ends. Asking for a push-up from a colleague can be a bit embarrassing, and not very dignified.
                    
While doctors tend to make a clear distinction between pain and stiffness, for PMR sufferers they are two sides of the same coin. They are the evil twins that stalk us, always together. The pain is associated with rigidity, and the stiffness – well, it bloody well hurts. It is not like the almost pleasant stiffness and ache that comes into tired muscles after some intense physical activity, like walking up a mountain, or doing a day’s gardening. It is miserable and debilitating. It is not the kind of stiffness that melts away with a warm bath or a pummelling from a masseur. If only it did!
 
Other Polymyalgia Rheumatica Symptoms
 
Other possible PMR symptoms include a slight fever that won’t go away, a chronic feeling of being unwell, and an unshakeable feeling of fatigue. These symptoms can be just as significant for a sufferer as the pain and stiffness. For me the fatigue was a major feature of this illness, and doctors now seem to be realising its importance as it can affect your life as much as the pain. Also, you may have lost some weight.
 
About one in five PMR patients also have symptoms of the related condition Giant Cell Arteritis. These symptoms include severe headache, pain in the jaw, tenderness around the temple area, tenderness of the scalp, and visual disturbance. If you are suffering three or more of these symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention. GCA can cause irreversible loss of sight, which is completely avoidable if the condition is promptly treated.