Bone Pain and Aches in Arms, Legs, or Joints

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2024

One of the symptoms that can be caused by many blood cancers is pain. The pain might be in the arms, legs, or joints. The joints may also swell or become inflamed, causing pain.1,2

How blood cancer causes bone pain

Bone pain can be related to blood cancer. The root cause of the pain may be different depending on the type of blood cancer. Also, some types of blood cancers may be more likely to cause pain.1

In leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, the bone marrow can become filled with cancer cells. (Marrow is the inner, spongy part of large bones.) This can cause bone pain, especially in long bones found in the arms, legs, and ribs. The cancer cells might also cluster around the joints or the nerves near the spinal cord. This can lead to pain as well.1-4

In myeloma, clumps of cancer cells can form in the bone marrow. This weakens the bones, which makes it more likely for the bones to fracture or break. Fractures can cause serious pain. You may also need to go to the emergency room for treatment.1,5,6

Myeloma can also cause abnormal proteins to build up in the body. This is called amyloidosis. One of the possible effects of this is a condition called carpal tunnel syndrome. This can cause pain and weakness in the hands.5,6

Some myeloproliferative diseases can decrease blood flow to the legs, causing pain in the feet or legs.1

Some blood disorders can cause the blood to become thick. This is called hyperviscosity syndrome and can lead to pain.5

Some types of blood cancers may cause bone pain indirectly. For example, some blood cancers can make it harder for your body to get rid of uric acid. The uric acid can settle into your joints, leading to arthritis (painful joints).1,7

Bone pain as a side effect of blood cancer treatments

Bone pain can also be a side effect of the treatments used for blood cancers, such as radiation or chemotherapy.1

These treatments use drugs or radiation to kill cancer cells. But they can also destroy healthy cells, potentially leading to pain. Chemotherapy or radiation can cause damage to certain nerves (peripheral neuropathy). This can lead to pain or numbness in the hands and feet.1,6

Treatment options for cancer-related pain

Many treatment options are available to deal with cancer-related pain. But some pain treatments may have side effects. Talk to your doctor to find the best solution for your pain level.2

One way to deal with pain is by using prescription drugs. If the pain level is mild, over-the-counter medicines may be used, depending on your doctor’s instructions. You may need to take these drugs on a schedule to keep the pain manageable (follow your doctor’s instructions for your specific case).2

If you have very high pain levels, your doctor may prescribe an opioid drug. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of these medicines. People may build a tolerance to opioids. This can result in people needing more of the drug, or different medicines, prescribed by their doctor to get pain relief.2

A nerve block is another possible treatment for pain. This involves injecting a drug near a painful nerve. The drug reduces pain in the area around the injection site.2

Talk to your doctor about any pain that you are experiencing. Different things could be responsible for the pain. Your doctor will be able to look at all of your symptoms to identify possible reasons for your pain. Your doctor can also suggest various ways of managing your pain to improve your quality of life.1

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