Joint pain or swelling can occur in some people taking statins. However, a more typical symptom is muscle pain, which a person may mistake for joint pain.

Statins help people lower their cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.

The risk of joint pain from statin use is likely low, though many statin users may have joint pain for other reasons, and some may experience statin-related muscle pain.

Even then, 2022 research examining other potential causes of muscle pain in statin users notes a small number of cases: about 11 episodes of muscle pain for every 1,000 people who take the medication.

While some individuals may experience joint pain, the benefits of statins usually outweigh the risks of not taking them. People taking statins with concerns about joint pain — new or preexisting — should consult a healthcare professional.

This article discusses statins and joint pain in more detail.

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Joint pain is not a widely known side effect of statins. Research has not shown that statins damage the joint or elucidated a pathway by which statins might cause joint pain.

No recent research has found a direct causal link between statins and joint pain. An older 2008 case report speculates that statins may cause joint pain and that people may not be recording these incidences. This is because doctors may attribute statin-related joint pain to osteoarthritis.

Additionally, users of some statins report an increase in joint pain. For example, in clinical trials for Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium), joint pain was among the most commonly reported side effects.

Muscle vs. joint pain

By contrast, muscle pain is a well-established potential side effect of statins — though estimates of how common it is vary widely. A 2023 paper estimates that as many as 10% of statin users may experience muscle pain.

However, 2022 research questions the widespread nature of statin-related muscle pain. While large numbers of statin users may report pain, the analysis of 19 double-blind trials suggests that just 11 out of 1,000 statin users experience muscle pain from statin use rather than from another cause.

Learn more about muscle pain and statins.

It is unclear whether a causal relationship exists between statins and joint pain. When people who use statins experience joint pain, some potential reasons include:

  • They are mistaking muscle pain for joint pain. For example, they might experience pain in the muscles of the hand that they assume is joint pain. As mentioned above, muscle pain is a known side effect among statin users.
  • They have joint pain for some other reason.
  • Their joint pain appeared along with the statins, but not because of them. As the use of statins tends to increase with age and among individuals with health issues, people who use statins may have a higher risk of joint pain independent of statin use.
  • There may be some interaction between statins and a person’s joints that researchers have yet to discover. It is also possible that other risk factors or medications may interact with statins to cause joint pain.

No evidence exists that statins generally worsen pain in people with joint issues. People may report new or worsening joint pain, but research has not proven that this is due to statins.

Instead, a growing body of evidence suggests that statins may actually improve joint health. For example, a longitudinal cohort 2020 study found a lower risk of joint replacement from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in people taking statins at high doses.

Conversely, a 2020 meta-analysis of 11 observational studies found no association between statin use and progression of osteoarthritis at any joint site. This suggests that statins neither increase nor improve joint pain or joint disease.

However, the researchers also found that atorvastatin was associated with a lower risk of osteoarthritis, while rosuvastatin increased the risk. Still, both associations were not robust.

Many factors can influence why a person feels joint pain. Still, there is no compelling scientific evidence that statins cause joint pain.

People should tell a doctor about any new pain since, very rarely, intense muscle pain could signal a serious statin-related complication. Otherwise, the same strategies that manage other forms of muscle and joint pain — exercise, pain medication, stretching, and massage — may also ease statin-related pain.

Learn more about treating joint pain.

Do people need to stop taking statins?

In most cases, people can safely continue taking statins. A doctor may recommend lower doses or a different statin or drug. However, a person should not change medications or dosage on their own.

Statins can help reduce the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. They also help a person achieve healthy cholesterol levels. These benefits often outweigh any risks, and research shows that any pain from statins is fairly uncommon. Instead, pain that may appear related to statins is often due to other causes.

Side effects provide important information about how a person’s body is responding to medication. Moreover, medication should improve health and functioning, so it is important for a person to inform a doctor about any side effects. Changing the dose or switching to a different statin may reduce pain when it occurs. Lifestyle changes can also help.