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Polymyositis is a rare disease of the muscles, usually those closest to the trunk of the body. The muscles become inflamed or swollen, which causes pain. The disease is progressive and starts slowly. If untreated, the muscles gradually become weaker and more painful.

Trunk Core Muscles

Front Muscles of Trunk

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Polymyositis may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that trigger an abnormal immune response.

This condition is more common in women, and in people aged 31-60 years old.

Polymyositis Symptoms

Polymyositis may cause:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Great effort needed to climb stairs
  • Trouble rising from a chair
  • Difficulty reaching overhead
  • Chronic dry cough

Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests to check for elevated muscle enzymes and autoimmune antibodies
  • Electromyogram (EMG) to measure muscle activity
  • Muscle biopsy

Imaging tests take pictures of internal body structures to look for muscle inflammation. This can be done with an MRI.

While there is no cure, treatment can improve your muscle strength and function.


Medications to treat polymyositis may include:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
  • Topical steroids to treat skin rash
  • Immunosuppresants

IV immunoglobulin therapy is another treatment option. It involves using an IV needle to inject extra immunoglobins (special proteins) into the body. This process may help the immune system function better and reduce inflammation.

Physical Therapy

Your doctor may recommend that you work with a physical therapist to prevent permanent muscle damage. Exercise may include:

  • A regular stretching routine for weakened arms and legs
  • Light strengthening as the pain lessens and function returns

Dietary Changes

Polymyositis can lead to problems with chewing and swallowing. A registered dietitian can help you learn ways to adjust to these changes and get the nutrition that you need.

Speech Therapy

Polymyositis may also cause speech problems. A speech therapist can assess your condition and create a program for you.


Call 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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