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Dr. Patricia Shelton

Jul 06, 20227 min read

Can HIV Cause Back, Joint, and Muscle Pain?

The information provided herein does not constitute an expert or medical advice, nor intended to replace such advice.


HIV is no longer a death sentence, and HIV-positive people can live long lives thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is an effective treatment for the virus. Still, HIV does impact the lives of people who are living with this virus. Studies have shown that HIV-positive people are more likely to report pain.

What types of pain can affect people with HIV?

HIV inflammation symptoms

Untreated HIV damages the immune system, which means that the body lacks inflammation. However, in people who are taking ART, HIV can be associated with increased inflammation. This can potentially lead to a variety of inflammatory conditions, such as skin conditions and arthritis. While ART undoubtedly saves lives and prevents HIV from progressing to AIDS, it can still lead to these side effects, which can have an impact on the lives of HIV-positive people.

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Does HIV cause back pain?

Back pain is actually very common in people with HIV. In fact, some studies have found that back pain is the most common reason for an HIV-positive person to visit a pain clinic. There are a number of different potential causes of back pain in this setting, including damage to nerves, damage to the discs of the spine, or even cancer that is growing in the bones of the spine. A doctor can perform a physical exam and some tests in order to find the cause of the back pain, so that it can be treated appropriately.

Are there HIV muscle aches and pains?

In the acute phase of the infection, which occurs when someone first gets HIV, muscle aches and pains are fairly common. Acute HIV muscle aches feel like the generalized muscle aches that may also accompany other types of viral illnesses, like influenza. Many people mistake this phase for a common virus, and it passes within a few days to weeks. Sometimes, an HIV test taken during this time might not produce a positive result, because the infection is still in the window period. You might need to retake the test later to be certain about whether or not your symptoms indicated HIV.

Can you get AIDS sores on legs?

People with HIV may have a number of different types of skin conditions, which may show up on the legs, arms, trunk, or face. These may be opportunistic infectious conditions or even skin cancers, which an impaired immune system is unable to fight off. People with HIV may also suffer from inflammatory skin conditions, like photodermatitis or atopic dermatitis (eczema). Because the potential causes of skin conditions in HIV-positive people are so numerous, it’s best to have a doctor look at the sores to determine what might be causing them.

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What does HIV abdominal pain mean?

Abdominal pain can also occur in people with HIV. Sometimes, this indicates an opportunistic infection or even a cancer that the immune system has failed to fight off. Appropriate treatment can help to reduce the pain. ART can also cause abdominal cramping and pain as side effects of the medication. Your doctor may be able to give you medications that can make you more comfortable.

It’s also important to note that abdominal pain is very common in the general population, and many people with HIV experience abdominal pain for reasons that have nothing to do with their HIV status.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, in which the body’s immune system attacks the person’s own joint tissues. Research has found a link between HIV and rheumatoid arthritis as well as other similar conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis and polymyositis. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 70% of HIV-positive people will also be diagnosed with a rheumatic condition.

Some experts recommend HIV testing for all people diagnosed with a rheumatic condition. A simple blood test is used to test for the virus, and the sample can even be collected at home. (However, other experts don’t believe this to be cost-effective, since HIV infection is not particularly common in the population.) For people with HIV and joint pain, a rheumatic condition should be considered as a possible diagnosis. Medications can be used to help manage these diseases.

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Carroll MB, Fields JH, et al. Rheumatoid arthritis in patients with HIV: management challenges. Open Access Rheumatol. 2016; 8: 51–59. doi: 10.2147/OARRR.S87312

HIV/Aids and Skin Conditions. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hiv-and-aids/hivaids-and-skin-conditions. Accessed 19 April 2022.

Hunt PW. HIV and inflammation: mechanisms and consequences. Curr HIV/AIDS Rep 2012 Jun;9(2):139-47. doi: 10.1007/s11904-012-0118-8

Moloney E, Westfall AO, et al. Low back pain and associated imaging findings among HIV-infected patients referred to an HIV/palliative care clinic. Pain Med 2014 Mar;15(3):418–424. doi: 10.1111/pme.12239

Sabin CA, Harding R, et al. Pain in people living with HIV and its association with healthcare resource use, well being and functional status. AIDS 2018 Nov 28;32(18):2697-2706. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000002021

The Stages of HIV Infection. National Institutes of Health (2021). https://hivinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv/fact-sheets/stages-hiv-infection. Accessed 19 April 2022.

Types of HIV Tests. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/hiv-testing/test-types.html. Accessed 19 April 2022.

Yoshida D, Caruso JM. Abdominal pain in the HIV infected patient. J Emerg Med 2002 Aug;23(2):111-6. doi: 10.1016/s0736-4679(02)00498-5.

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