In this disease there is pain in the muscles, which may be constant, but is more pronounced on movement. Exposure to cold and wet, combined with muscular strain, frequently excite an attack. On the other hand, it often occurs during hot, dry, fine weather. Attacks last usually but a few days, but may be prolonged for weeks. The pain may be dull, as if the muscle had been bruised, but is often very sharp and cramplike. There is, commonly, slight, if any, fever, and no general disturbance of the health. The following are the most common varieties:
LUMBAGO. This attacks the muscles in the small part of the back. It comes on often with great suddenness, as on stooping or lifting. It may be so severe that the body cannot be moved, and the patient may fall in the street or be unable to rise or turn in bed. In less severe cases the pain “catches” the patient when attempting to straighten up after stooping. Pain in the back is often attributed by the laity to Bright’s disease, but is rarely seen in the latter disorder, and is much more often due to rheumatism.
STIFF NECK. This is a very common variety of muscular rheumatism, and is seen more especially in young persons. It may appear very suddenly, as on awakening. It attacks the muscles of one side and back of the neck. The head is held stiffly to one side, and to turn the head the body must be turned also, as moving the neck causes severe pain. Sometimes the pain on moving the neck suddenly, or getting it into certain positions, is agonizing, but when it is held in other positions a fair amount of comfort may be secured.
RHEUMATISM OF THE CHEST. In this form there is more or less constant pain, much increased by coughing, sneezing, taking long breaths, or by movements. It attacks usually one side, more often the left. It may resemble neuralgia or pleurisy. In neuralgia the pain is more limited and comes in sharper attacks, and there are painful spots. The absence of fever in rheumatism of the chest will tend to separate it from pleurisy, in which there is, moreover, often cough. Examination of the chest by a physician, to determine the breath sounds, is the only method to secure certainty in this matter.
Muscular rheumatism also affects the muscles about the shoulder and shoulder blade and upper part of the back; sometimes also the muscles of the belly and limbs.
Treatment. Rest, heat, and rubbing are the most satisfactory remedies. In stiff neck, rub well with some liniment, as chloroform liniment, and lie in bed on a hot water bag. Phenacetin or salophen in doses of ten grains, not repeated more frequently than once in four hours for an adult, may afford relief; only two or three doses should be taken in all. In lumbago the patient should remain in bed and have the back ironed with a hot flatiron, the skin being protected by a piece of flannel. This should be repeated several times a day. Or a large, hot, flaxseed poultice may be applied to the back, and repeated as often as it becomes cool. At other times the patient may lie on a hot water bag. Plasters will give comfort in milder cases, or when the patient is able to leave the bed. A good cathartic, as two compound cathartic pills, sometimes acts very favorably at the beginning of the attack. Salicylate of sodium is a useful remedy in many cases, the patient taking ten grains three times daily, in tablets after eating, for a number of days. In rheumatism of the chest, securing immobility by strapping the chest, as recommended for broken rib, gives more comfort than any other form of treatment. Many other measures may be employed by the physician, and are applicable in persistent cases, as electricity and tonics. The hot bath, or Turkish bath, will sometimes cut short an attack of muscular rheumatism if employed at the onset of the trouble.