Arthralgias and Myalgias (Joint or Muscle Pain)
What is it?
Arthralgia is joint pain. Myalgia is muscle pain. Both can be a side effect of some cancer treatments. Chemotherapy, hormonal therapy agents, and growth factors can cause joint and muscle pain. You may also have joint or muscle pain if your white blood cell level is very high.
- Pain caused by chemotherapy often happens within two or three days of treatment. It often gets better within four to seven days.
- Pain from hormonal therapy may last longer because hormonal therapy is often prescribed for long periods of time.
- Pain from growth factors happens because the bone marrow is “packed” with newly growing cells and, in some cancers, the white blood cell count can get very high, causing pain.
Arthralgia pain is like arthritis pain. You can have morning stiffness and you may feel it in a few joints at different times. It often affects the elbows, shoulders, wrists, knees, feet, pelvic and hip bones, or back.
Myalgia is pain or aching within the muscle.
How is arthralgia and myalgia treated?
Myalgias and arthralgias are treated with pain control and lifestyle changes. The following self-care activities may help lessen your pain:
- Try for moderate daily exercise: walking, swimming, water exercise, or gardening will keep your muscles and joints moving. Try not to do exercises that stress your muscles and joints, such as running, aerobics, tennis, or contact sports.
- Warm showers and hot packs applied to the joint or muscle may relieve pain.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve) are helpful in relieving myalgia and arthralgia. Check with your provider before taking any over the counter medications.
- Physiotherapy (PT) or massage therapy may be prescribed.
- Prescription anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed.
When should I contact my care team?
If you have muscle or joint pain that cannot be controlled with self-care measures, speak to your care provider. Do not stop your cancer treatments to manage your pain without talking to your provider first.
Breastcancer.org. Muscle Pain (Myalgia). 2020. Found at: https://www.breastcancer.org/treatment/side_effects/muscle_pain
Yarbo CH, Frogge MH, Goodman M. Cancer Symptom Management, 3rd ed. Sudbury: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2004
Coleman, RA et al. Aromatase Inhibitor Induced Arthralgia - Clinical Experience and treatment recommendations. Cancer Treatment Review. 2008:34(3):275-82.
Thorne C. Clinical Management of Arthralgia and Bone Health. Current Opinion in Oncology. 2007:19(1)19-S28.