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Medications that may cause muscle pain and weakness

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Meds and muscle painMeds and joint painIs body ache common?What to do if meds cause painSummary
Some cholesterol medications, corticosteroids, and aromatase inhibitors may lead to side effects like muscle cramps and weakness. Although rare, some of them may also cause muscle damage.
Medically reviewed by Alexandra Perez, PharmD, MBA, BCGP
Updated on November 29, 2023

Pain and weakness in the muscles, joints, or tendons may be a side effect of some medications. The frequency and intensity of these and other effects may vary individually and could be temporary or long term. 

What medications cause muscle pain and weakness? 

Adult pain with back pain caused by medications
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Not everyone taking medications experiences side effects. These may depend on factors such as overall health, individual sensitivities, and other medications you may be taking. Some medications may more commonly cause side effects, such as muscle pain and overall weakness.

Statins

Statins are a class of drugs that doctors prescribe to lower cholesterol levels.

Common side effects may include: 

  • muscle pain and weakness, especially in the lower back
  • tendon pain
  • muscle cramps, especially at night
  • overall fatigue 

Statins may also lead to a rare but serious condition called rhabdomyolysis, involving the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue. It may be life threatening.

Muscular side effects from statin use can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. A 2019 study notes that 7–29% of statin users experience some type of muscle-related side effect. 

Common statins include:

Fluoroquinolone antibiotics

Doctors use these medications to treat bacterial infections.

According to a 2016 review, in rare cases, fluoroquinolone antibiotics may cause:

  • muscle pain
  • tendon pain, swelling, and inflammation 
  • tendon rupture

Common pain locations are the Achilles tendon, hands, rotator cuff, biceps, and quadriceps. You may be at a higher risk of these side effects if you are taking corticosteroids at the same time.

Fluoroquinolone antibiotics include:

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids, a class of steroid hormones, can reduce inflammation and pain by inhibiting the activity of the immune system.

According to a 2018 research review and a 2023 study, corticosteroids may cause muscle weakness in some people. This is more likely in those who take higher doses for longer periods. 

In the case of steroid injections, muscle pain around the injection site is possible for a few days to weeks after administration.

Corticosteroid medications may include:

Aromatase inhibitors 

Aromatase inhibitors lower estrogen levels in females who have breast cancer or are at high risk of developing it. They help prevent the growth or recurrence of breast tumors that depend on estrogen. 

These medications may cause joint and muscle pain and stiffness in up to half of users.

Some aromatase inhibitors are:

Colchicine

Colchicine is a medication for gout that reduces inflammation and prevents gout attacks. 

High colchicine doses or long-term treatment may lead to acute myopathy, a rare but serious muscle disease. A key symptom of myopathy is muscle weakness that worsens progressively. 

Some brand-name medications for colchicine include: 

If you need help covering the cost of medications, the free Optum Perks Discount Card could help you save up to 80% on prescription drugs. Follow the links on drug names for savings on that medication, or search for a specific drug here.

What medications cause joint pain? 

Many medications that cause muscle pain and weakness also cause joint pain. Some medications may lead to aching joints, which include:

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Vaccines

While vaccines are vital for protecting people and communities against infectious diseases, they can sometimes trigger joint pain. Typically, this pain is temporary. 

In particular, the rubella vaccine may cause joint pain in your hands and other joints. But this side effect has become much rarer than it once was because of an update in the rubella strain in the vaccine. 

A 2023 systematic review reports rare cases of joint pain linked with the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the writers emphasize that more extensive research can confirm whether this vaccine causes joint pain.

Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Doctors usually prescribe ACE inhibitors for treating various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease. 

A 2022 systematic review explains that they may cause joint pain in some people — though more research is needed to understand who is more at risk. 

ACE inhibitors include:

Diuretics

Diuretic drugs increase urine output and remove excess fluid from the body. 

Two older studies from 2012 note that diuretics may cause joint pain or gout attacks in some people by increasing the concentration of uric acid in the blood. Still, more and newer research will help understand the mechanisms behind this side effect. 

Diuretic drugs include:

Are body aches common side effects of medications? 

Body aches, including muscle and joint pain, are side effects of many medications. Usually, these effects are temporary as your body adjusts to the drug and the changes it causes. 

Experts don’t consider body aches as common side effects, though they’re more likely to happen if you use certain medications, such as aromatase inhibitors and statins. Body aches can occur if you already have a joint or muscle-related condition.

What to do if your prescription medication causes you pain and weakness 

If you experience muscle pain and weakness after starting a prescription medication, consider the following:

  • Speaking with your doctor: Your doctor can discuss your symptoms, when they started, and how intense and frequent they are. They may recommend adjusting the medication dosage, switching to a different drug, or exploring alternative treatments.
  • Making lifestyle changes: Some lifestyle factors may worsen muscle weakness and pain — including physical inactivity, sleep deprivation, dietary choices, inability to manage stress and tobacco use. Adjusting these factors may alleviate muscle pain and weakness related to medications.
  • Exploring pain relieving treatments: Massage therapy or ice packs may offer temporary relief. You may also discuss over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) with your healthcare professional. 
  • Seeking additional support:2021 study noted that spirituality and religiousness may reduce overall pain for some people. You can speak to a therapist, family, friends, religious support groups, or support groups for your specific health condition for pain management support. 

Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.

Summary 

Muscle pain and weakness can be unexpected side effects of medications like statins, corticosteroids, and vaccines.

If you experience these side effects for a long time, consider discussing them with a healthcare professional. They will guide you on whether you need to adjust your medication, explore alternative options, or make lifestyle changes. They can help you make informed decisions to relieve the discomfort that comes with muscle pain.

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