Can Statins Cause Muscle Pain?

By Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
August 9, 2022

Statins are a type of medication used to treat high cholesterol and some common heart health problems.

A potentially common side effect of statins is muscle pain. While it is typically harmless, it may require medical attention in rare cases.

In this article, we’ll explore why statins cause muscle pain, how long it may last, other side effects, and how to know when you should seek medical care for statin-related muscle pain.

Statins and Muscle Pain

For people who take statins, a common side effect is muscle pain. It may feel like weakness, soreness, or tiredness.

It can range from mild discomfort to pain strong enough to disrupt everyday activities.

Not everyone who takes statins will get muscle pain.

The actual risk of muscle pain found in clinical trials is around 1-5%, with rates comparable in the placebo groups.

People who are 40 and older more commonly experience musculoskeletal pain. Also, the percentage of people in that age group who take statins and experience muscle pain is higher.

Researchers have found an interesting phenomenon with statins, though: people who expect to get muscle pain or negative side effects from them tend to have a higher occurrence of perceived muscle pain.

This is what is called a “nocebo” effect.

In rare cases, statins can cause serious muscle damage known as rhabdomyolysis.

This potentially life-threatening condition can lead to severe muscle pain, kidney failure, liver damage, and death.

The risk of this is very low, but may be increased in people who take statins at high doses or with certain other drugs.

If you take statins, it’s important to ensure that your medical provider and pharmacist know the other medications, OTC drugs, and supplements you take to avoid interactions.

Always follow prescription instructions closely.

Most people who take statins will not get muscle pain from the medication.

Risk factors for being more likely to notice this side effect include:

  • 80 or older
  • Assigned female at birth
  • Low body weight

Other medical conditions may increase the risk of side effects from statins, including muscle pain. Examples of the medical conditions include:

Why do statins cause muscle pain?

Not a single definitive cause is known for why statins cause muscle pain.

It is most likely a combination of factors, including:

There are other possible reasons someone may experience muscle pain while taking statins.

A medical professional can assess risk factors and health history and consider side effects from other medications to determine the cause.

Do all statins cause muscle pain?

While all statins work similarly in the body, there are some minor differences between the medications. Some statins may be more likely to cause muscle pain than others.

Simvastatin is more associated with muscle pain, while fluvastatin is less likely to cause it.

Overall, how a person responds to each type of statin still depends on their own physical health and genetic factors.

Most people who experience muscle pain from statins notice the side effect shortly after they start the medication.

In most cases, the pain is short-term and resolves within a few weeks, as the body adjusts to the medication.

If the pain lasts longer or becomes more severe, let your medical provider know right away. It could be a sign of a serious reaction to statins or could be caused by a different condition.

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What Are Statins?

Statins are a type of prescription medication that helps reduce LDL cholesterol. This is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

Statins are frequently prescribed because they have a strong safety profile in most cases and can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Uses of Statins

Medical providers use statins to help lower LDL cholesterol in people with high levels.

HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, should be in a balanced ratio with LDL for the best cardiovascular health.

Statins can help lower LDL and restore this balance.

Statins are also prescribed for other reasons, including reducing risks and complications from heart attack and stroke. More than 30% of adults over age 40 take a statin medication.

There are several different types of statins, including:

  • Simvastatin (Zocor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Lovastatin (Mevacor)

Common Side Effects

Statins tend to cause some other side effects, in addition to muscle pain.

  • Increased risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Lowered testosterone levels in people with penises
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Kidney or liver problems

If a medical provider has prescribed a statin medication, they believe that the benefit for your health outweighs the potential for side effects.

Managing Muscle Pain Caused by Statins

If you take statins and develop muscle pain, a healthcare provider has many potential ways to address it.

  • Dosage adjustment: Depending on your dose, reducing it could help to improve muscle pain. But if your LDL cholesterol is not well-controlled on a lower dose, a medical provider may add another medication or suggest specific lifestyle adjustments to support optimal cholesterol levels.
  • Check for interactions: A healthcare provider may ask for a complete, detailed list of the other medications you take, as well as any dietary supplements, herbs, and even specific foods. Sometimes unintentional drug interactions increase negative side effects. Specifically, they may make sure that you are not taking calcium channel blockers, heart rhythm drugs, immunosuppressants, certain antidepressants, some hormone therapies, antifungal drugs that end in -azole, or antibiotic medications that end in -mycin. Grapefruit juice should also be avoided.
  • Taking a break: A medical provider may have you stop taking statins for a few weeks or a month, to determine whether your muscle pain resolves after the drug is out of your system. If the pain resolves, they may prescribe a different statin or a different type of medication. If the pain does not resolve, they will investigate the cause of the muscle pain.
  • Trying a different medication: If statins cause muscle pain, a healthcare provider may switch you to a different type of cholesterol-lowering drug like adenosine triphosphate-citrate lyase (ACL) inhibitors (Nexletol), bile acid sequestrants (cholestyramine, colesevelam, others), or PCSK9 inhibitors (alirocumab, evolocumab).
  • Considering underlying conditions: A medical provider may suggest blood tests to check for abnormal thyroid hormone levels, since this can increase the chance for muscle-related side effects from statins.
  • Regular physical activity: If you don’t already exercise, getting regular physical activity may decrease the physical pain. For most individuals, 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise is important. If you already exercise regularly, your medical provider may ask about the intensity level and frequency. In some cases, excessive exercise or high-intensity activity may contribute to muscle pain.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Muscle Pain

For most people, statin-related muscle pain is not serious.

While the pain may be uncomfortable and, in some cases, may interfere with everyday activities, it is not a sign of a severe medical complication.

Rarely do statins lead to serious muscle damage that can be life-threatening. Rhabdomyolysis requires emergency medical attention and includes symptoms such as:

  • Extreme muscle pain
  • Weakened muscles
  • Brown or red urine

If you notice these signs, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

Medical providers will run blood and urine tests to determine the cause of these serious symptoms.

Rhabdomyolysis only happens to a few out of every million people who take statins.

While it is very rare, the odds increase if you take high-dose statins or take other medications that increase the risk for side effects or interactions.

Even if you do not notice these serious signs, but you feel consistent muscle pain while taking a statin drug, speak with a healthcare provider.

They will assess your health and situation to determine other possible causes and will help find a solution.

You do not have to live with muscle pain that alters your ability to function since there are alternative ways to treat high LDL cholesterol and related conditions.

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does muscle pain from statins go away?
In most cases, statin muscle pain resolves on its own after the first few weeks of taking the medication. If the pain persists or becomes serious, get medical attention.
Which muscles ache with statins?
While any muscles can hurt with statin-related pain, the effects are most commonly felt in the calf and thigh muscles.
How do you prevent muscle pain when taking statins?
You can reduce the chances of statin muscle pain by getting regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and ensuring that your medical provider and pharmacist know the other medications, supplements, and herbs you take. In some cases, genetics or other risk factors you can’t control may contribute to muscle pain while taking statins. In that case, a medical provider will prescribe a different medication or find alternative ways to treat your condition.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years experience. He received his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from William Paterson University and his doctoral degree from Drexel University. He has spent his career working in the Emergency Room and Primary Care. The last 6 years of his career have been dedicated to the field of digital medicine. He has created departments geared towards this specialized practice as well as written blogs and a book about the topic.

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