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What can we do about musculoskeletal pain from bisphosphonates?

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Before starting bisphosphonate therapy, patients should be counseled about the possibility of acute musculoskeletal pain and other symptoms of the acute-phase reaction.

For intravenous bisphosphonates

We advise all patients scheduled to receive intravenous bisphosphonates to take acetaminophen 650 to 1,000 mg once on the morning of the infusion. We prefer acetaminophen over NSAIDs for prophylaxis to avoid the gastric mucosal and renal toxicity more common with NSAIDs, especially in the elderly.

If the patient has a history of acute musculoskeletal pain or other symptoms of an acute-phase reaction after bisphosphonate infusion, we advise a more aggressive approach to prophylaxis: acetaminophen 650 mg 1 hour before the infusion, then every 6 hours for up to 3 days. This approach, with acetaminophen or NSAIDs, has been shown in large randomized controlled trials to reduce the incidence and severity of the acute-phase reaction.

If an acute-phase reaction occurs, we inform patients that the likelihood decreases and is quite low with subsequent doses. We provide correct and honest information, so that patients who experience an acute-phase reaction can make an informed decision about continuing bisphosphonate treatment or switching to another treatment. If the patient decides to continue with intravenous bisphosphonate treatment, we recommend more-aggressive prophylaxis with acetaminophen or NSAIDs with subsequent infusions.

For oral bisphosphonates

We do not prescribe prophylactic treatment with acetaminophen or NSAIDs with oral bisphosphonates, but we do advise patients to take acetaminophen or NSAIDs as needed for mild to moderate musculoskeletal pain, should this occur.

We try to continue treatment in mild to moderate cases, while monitoring the patient closely to see if the musculoskeletal pain resolves within 1 to 2 weeks.

If the pain is severe or does not resolve in 1 to 2 weeks, we offer switching to another drug class. Since musculoskeletal pain with oral bisphosphonates does not represent an allergic reaction, we have switched patients from oral to intravenous bisphosphonates without recurrence of musculoskeletal pain.


Severe musculoskeletal pain that may not be related to the acute-phase reaction, although rare, has been reported.5,14 From 1995, when alendronate was approved for osteoporosis, through 2002, the US Food and Drug Administration received reports of severe musculoskeletal pain in 117 patients.15

This severe musculoskeletal pain related to bisphosphonate use remains poorly characterized. It has been reported to occur days or months (median time 14 days, range same day to 52 months) after starting bisphosphonate therapy and to resolve only if the bisphosphonate is stopped.5,15 It differs from typical acute-phase reactions, which tend to occur with the initial dose (intravenous or oral) and resolve within several days. There are case reports of polyarthritis with synovitis that recurred with each bisphosphonate dose (oral or intravenous) and led to discontinuation of the bisphosphonate.14,16–18

Clinicians need to be aware of the possibility of severe musculoskeletal pain and consider stopping bisphosphonate treatment in these cases. Besides discontinuation, acetaminophen, NSAIDs, and, in rare cases, glucocorticoids or short-term opiate therapy may be used for symptom control. In patients with a severe or persistent acute-phase reaction or musculoskeletal pain, discontinuation of bisphosphonates is warranted.

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