Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips.

The main symptom is muscle stiffness in the morning that lasts longer than 45 minutes. It may also cause other symptoms, including:

  • high temperature (fever) and sweating
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • depression

If you have pain and stiffness that lasts longer than a week, you should see your GP so the cause can be investigated.

Diagnosing polymyalgia rheumatica can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions will need to be ruled out before polymyalgia rheumatica is diagnosed.

Read more about the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica and diagnosing polymyalgia rheumatica.

What causes polymyalgia rheumatica?

The cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown, but a combination of genetic and environmental factors is thought to be responsible.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is relatively common in the UK. It's estimated that one in every 1,200 people develop the condition every year.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is age-related. Most people who are diagnosed with the condition are over 70. It's extremely rare in people younger than 50. It's also more common in women than men.

Treating polymyalgia rheumatica

The main treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica is a coritcosteroid medication called prednisolone, which is used to help relieve the symptoms.

You'll initially be prescribed a high dose of prednisolone, which will be reduced gradually over time.

Most people with polymyalgia rheumatica will need to take a long-term course of corticosteroid treatment (lasting 18 months to two years) to prevent their symptoms returning.

Read more about treating polymyalgia rheumatica.

Giant cell arteritis

Around one in five people with polymyalgia rheumatica develop a more serious condition called giant cell arteritis (also known as temporal arteritis), which can cause inflammation in the arteries of the head or neck, resulting in symptoms such as:

You should contact your GP immediately if you notice these symptoms.

Unlike polymyalgia rheumatica, giant cell arteritis requires immediate medical assistance and without prompt treatment it can cause permanent visual impairment.

The symptoms of giant cell arteritis can develop before, after or at the same time as the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica.

Page last reviewed: 20/01/2015

Next review due: 20/01/2017