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Joint or muscle pain? Your medications may be to blame

The medications you take for pain, depression, high cholesterol and more might lead to other unwanted symptoms. Help is here.

Hallie Levine By Hallie Levine

As we get older, it’s easy to blame aches and pains on things like arthritis, past injuries or just all those birthdays gone by. But don’t grin and bear it. If you’re taking any medications, it’s a good idea to give them a closer look. That includes common over-the-counter (OTC) medications as well as prescription ones.

The reason: Some medications have been linked to pain in the joints, back, stomach, head and more, says pain management specialist Medhat Mikhael, M.D. He’s a medical director at the Spine Health Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.

Sometimes the fix is as simple as talking to your doctor. They might suggest changing your dose or switching to another similar treatment. Some simple lifestyle changes may also help.

But first, look at the list below. See if any of those medications are in your medicine cabinet and learn about their links to pain. Then find out how you can work with your doctor to find relief.


Aetna® Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan or D-SNP members get a refill of up to 100 days on medications they take regularly to maintain their health. Click here to learn more about D-SNP plans.


Statins

Statins are drugs that can help lower cholesterol. They are very effective and can help reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke. But as with all medications, there are sometimes side effects. One of them can be muscle pain.1

“We think this is due to muscle inflammation,” says Dr. Mikhael. “Usually, it’s mild and gets better on its own.” If it doesn’t, you have a few options to talk with your doctor about:

  • You can lower your dose.
  • You can switch to a different statin. Some work differently and don’t spread into muscles, so they’re less likely to cause pain.
  • If the pain is severe enough, you can try a different cholesterol-lowering drug.

Remember that statins can be a very important part of managing your heart health. Be sure to work with your doctor to find the right solution for you. You can also review your formulary with your doctor. This is the list of both generic and brand-name prescription drugs that are covered by your health plan.


Aetna® D-SNP members who use an in-network pharmacy pay $0 for most covered prescription medications. Click here to learn more about D-SNP plans.


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These OTC medications are sold in the form of ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). They help ease inflammation and pain. But they can also affect your gastrointestinal tract if you use them long term, especially if you’re an older adult, says Christina Lasich, M.D. She’s a pain and addiction specialist and director of specialty services for Mendocino Community Health Clinic in Ukiah, California. In fact, up to 30 percent of long-term NSAID users go on to develop ulcer disease. This can cause bleeding and pain.2

To avoid this, Dr. Lasich suggests that you try nondrug therapies to treat common conditions like arthritis. For example, try eating an anti-inflammatory diet and getting regular exercise.

If you do need something stronger, Dr. Lasich advises that you talk to your doctor. They might suggest the prescription drug celecoxib (Celebrex) combined with a proton pump inhibitor such as omeprazole (Losec) or lansoprazole (Prevacid). This is much easier on the stomach than NSAIDs.2

Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs used to treat pain. They can be addictive. “I see a lot of people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who have been on short-acting opioids like oxycodone for several years and now take them around the clock,” says Dr. Lasich. “Because when they stop, it causes withdrawal symptoms like pain and anxiety.” When she sees this, she temporarily switches the patient to buprenorphine, a long-acting opioid.

“It’s almost impossible to taper off of a short-acting opioid. It’s like stepping off a roller coaster,” says Dr. Lasich. “But buprenorphine promotes more chemical stability in the brain. It’s actually easier to taper.”

Certain antidepressants

A class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can sometimes cause headaches, says Dr. Lasich. Some examples: sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac). That’s because they activate the same brain receptors that can also bring on a headache.

Do you take an SSRI and have frequent bad headaches? If so, Dr. Lasich suggests asking your doctor about the medication duloxetine (Cymbalta). It’s an antidepressant that can also treat chronic pain.

Injectable osteoporosis medications

These drugs are very effective at helping your body build back bone. One example is teriparatide (Forteo). Taking them can help save you from going through the pain of a broken wrist or a hip fracture.3 But joint pain can be a side effect for some people, says Dr. Mikhael.

Still, “most patients decide to stay on these medications because they provide so many benefits,” says Dr. Mikhael. But what if the pain gets to be too much? You can switch to another type of osteoporosis medication.

OTC headache medicines

These products usually contain an OTC pain reliever. They can help ease an occasional headache. But if you take them too often, you run the risk of having rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches. That’s especially true if they also contain caffeine, says Dr. Mikhael.

If you find that you’re reaching for OTC headache medicines more than a couple of times a week, talk to your primary care provider. They can refer you to a headache specialist who can help you find less pain-inducing options.


Many Aetna® D-SNP members get a regular OTC allowance to buy approved health and wellness items, such as pain relievers. Click here to learn more about D-SNP plans.


 

1Cleveland Clinic. Statins giving you achy muscles? Ask your doctor about these 4 potential fixes, February 25, 2020, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/statins-giving-you-achy-muscles-ask-your-doctor-about-these-4-potential-fixes/. Accessed December 9, 2021.  

2Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Preventing GI damage from NSAIDs, 2016, https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/preventing-gi-damage-nsaids/. Accessed December 9, 2021.

3Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis treatment: medications can help, August 13, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoporosis/in-depth/osteoporosis-treatment/art-20046869. Accessed December 9, 2021.

 

 

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