Some people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions experience joint and/or muscle pain, and the goal of this blog post is to discuss some of the most common causes, along with natural treatment suggestions. I should mention that of the “7 causes” listed below, some of them can cause both joint and muscle pain, while others are more likely to cause either muscle or joint pain. For example, certain infections can cause muscle and/or joint pain, whereas nutrient deficiencies are more likely to affect the muscles, but usually don’t result in joint pain. In any case, whether you have joint pain, muscle pain, or both of these I do think it’s a good idea to read this entire blog post.
So let’s take a look at 7 common causes of joint and muscle pain:
1. Thyroid Hormone Imbalances. Although I can’t say that most of my patients with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s experience joint and/or muscle pain, some people do. And while low thyroid hormone isn’t always the primary cause of joint and/or muscle pain, it’s a factor that shouldn’t be ignored. There is a condition called “hypothyroid myopathy”, but keep in mind that this is much more common in those people with “overt” hypothyroidism (thyroid hormone levels below the lab reference range). Many people with Hashimoto’s have thyroid hormone levels that are less than optimal, but not low enough to result in muscle pain and weakness.
It’s also important to mention that people with hyperthyroidism are more likely to develop adhesive capsulitis, also known as “frozen shoulder” (1). I actually wrote a separate blog post on this entitled “Is Hyperthyroidism Causing Your Frozen Shoulder?” Another thing I should mention is that for those with hyperthyroidism who are taking antithyroid medication such as Methimazole, sometimes this can result in joint pain (2).
2. Arthritis. This of course is a very common cause of joint pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, and as I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, someone with Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions. One study showed that there is an increased risk of thyroid dysfunction among those with rheumatoid arthritis (3). Another study looked at the prevalence and risk of other autoimmune conditions in those with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, and found that rheumatoid arthritis was the most common coexisting autoimmune disorder (4). It’s worth mentioning that infections can potentially cause rheumatoid arthritis, including Porphyromonas gingivalis, Proteus mirabilis, and Epstein–Barr virus (5).
The Relationship Between Arthritis and the Gut Microbiome
It’s also important to mention that a few studies show a correlation between a disrupted gut microbiome and both rheumatoid and osteoarthritis (6) (7) (8). So while many people associate arthritis with “old age”, having a healthy gut microbiome can be one of the main factors preventing you from developing both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
There is also some research that shows a possible connection between environmental toxins and arthritis. One study showed that the concentrations of heavy metals in serum samples of those with rheumatoid arthritis and healthy control individuals differed significantly, as it showed that heavy metals may contribute towards the development of rheumatoid arthritis (9). Another study found a significant positive, linear association between the persistent environmental contaminant Perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and reported diagnosis of osteoarthritis (10). Yet another study showed an association between exposure to some pesticides (including glyphosate) and rheumatoid arthritis in male farmers (11).
3. Infections. This is an overlooked cause of both muscle and joint pain. Lyme disease is notorious for causing migrating muscle and joint pain, but other infections associated with bacteria can also cause joint pain, including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumonia, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (12). Viruses can also cause joint pain, including parvovirus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and Epstein-Barr (13). The research shows that some people with “viral arthritis” will have positive rheumatoid factor and antinuclear antibodies, but mentions that viral arthritis is milder than osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (13). There is also some evidence that certain parasites can cause reactive arthritis, including Blastocystis hominis (14) (15).
Earlier I mentioned that having a disrupted gut microbiome can be a factor in the development of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Well, a healthy gut is also necessary for a healthy immune system, which is necessary to keep infections in check. This is one reason why you want to do everything you can to improve the health of your gut.
4. Trauma. Of course trauma can cause muscle and/or joint pain, and while the connection is usually made between muscle and/or joint pain and major traumas (i.e. a car accident), sometimes minor traumas are overlooked as potential causes.
5. Nutrient Deficiencies/Exposure to food allergens. Eating a healthy diet will reduce the chances of developing muscle and/or joint pain for multiple reasons. First of all, certain nutrient deficiencies can make it more likely that you will experience muscle pain. While muscle cramping is common with a magnesium deficiency, a severe deficiency in this mineral can sometimes lead to persistent and severe pain (16). Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies can cause abnormal muscular function, including pain and weakness (17). Although a potassium deficiency can cause muscle cramps, while doing research for this blog post I came across a case study which showed that a patient developed painful muscle cramps due to overeating mangos, and the author suspected this might be due to an excess of potassium (18). Of course it’s also possible that the person had a food allergy or sensitivity to mangos, which in turn resulted in muscle cramps.
I’ve had some patients whose joint and muscle pain resolved upon eliminating gluten and/or dairy from their diet. And so if you have muscle and/or joint pain and nothing you’ve tried has worked to eliminate the pain, in addition to considering the other factors I discussed in this blog post, make sure that you follow an anti-inflammatory diet for at least 30 days to see if this helps.
6. Overtraining. There are many negative consequences of overtraining, and muscle and joint pain is one of these. While it’s not unusual to be sore a day or two after an intense workout, it’s not normal to have pain persist for a week or longer. As I discussed in past blog posts, overtraining also puts a lot of stress on your adrenals and immune system. So while I definitely encourage people to exercise, make sure you don’t overdo it.
8. Poor posture/sleep habits. Since I’m a chiropractor I felt the need to mention this, as having poor posture and/or sleep habits can lead to muscle pain. I actually experienced this recently, as this past summer I went on an 11-day road trip with my older daughter and I forgot to bring my own pillow. The pillows I used during this trip were horrible, and by the time we arrived home my neck was in a great deal of pain. I’m sure it didn’t help that we went on a lot of roller coasters on our trip, but I think the pillows were a greater culprit, and this is the case with a lot of people. Similarly, some people have low back pain due to the mattress they’re sleeping on.
Unfortunately many people sit all day…even those who work from home, and this can put a lot of stress on your neck and back. But what can you do if you have to spend a lot of time on your computer? I’ll discuss some tips below.
Is There A Relationship Between Fibromyalgia and Thyroid Health?
I didn’t list fibromyalgia as one of the causes of muscle pain in those with thyroid conditions, but without question some people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions also have fibromyalgia…most commonly those with Hashimoto’s. In fact, a 2017 journal article mentioned that the prevalence of fibromyalgia is approximately 2-7% in the general global population and is 30-40% in those who have Hashimoto thyroiditis (19)! This topic deserves its own blog post, and perhaps I’ll expand on this in the future, but I did want to briefly mention it here since fibromyalgia is so common.
Natural Treatment Solutions For Joint and Muscle Pain
Correct any thyroid hormone imbalances. If low thyroid hormone levels are causing muscle and/or joint pain, many times correcting this imbalance will eliminate the person’s pain. However, the same can’t be said for most people with hyperthyroidism who have a frozen shoulder. In other words, lowering the thyroid hormone levels many times won’t resolve the person’s shoulder pain and lack of mobility. Once again, for more information I would read the blog post I wrote on this.
Address arthritis. So how do you address conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis? Well, in severe cases the damage caused from arthritis might not be able to be completely reversed, but this doesn’t mean that nothing can be done for the autoimmune component. Just as is the case with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, the goal is to do everything you can to improve the health of the immune system. If you have any type of immune system condition you want to eat a healthy diet and do other things to improve your gut microbiome health, address any infections, reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, etc.
Eradicate infections. The truth is that not all infections can be completely eradicated. For example, Epstein-Barr can’t be eliminated from your body, but you can do things to get it back into a dormant state. It’s a similar situation with chronic Lyme disease. For more information on Epstein-Barr and Lyme disease I would check out some of the blog posts on my website.
Correct nutrient deficiencies. While eating a healthy diet is important for maintaining healthy nutrient levels, doing this alone usually isn’t sufficient to correct nutrient deficiencies. Supplementation is almost always required. In addition, it’s important to correct the cause of the nutrient deficiencies. Poor absorption due to numerous factors can result in nutrient deficiencies. Certain medications, including birth control, can result in nutrient deficiencies.
Minimize exposure to common food allergens. Eating any type of inflammatory food can potentially cause muscle and/or joint pain. And even if gluten, dairy, or another food allergen isn’t responsible for your muscle or joint pain, these allergens can negatively affect your health in other ways (i.e. can cause gut inflammation). And if this is the case it will be very challenging to achieve an optimal state of health. So if you haven’t done so already you might as well clean up your diet and take a break from the common food allergens.
Reduce your toxic load. I mentioned how antithyroid medication can sometimes cause joint pain, and I also discussed the relationship between certain environmental chemicals and arthritis. As a result, you want to do everything you can to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. Also, if you began experiencing muscle or joint pain shortly after starting a medication, it’s possible that this is responsible for the pain. This might seem obvious, but sometimes the person doesn’t make the connection, especially if they don’t experience muscle and/or joint pain until a few days or weeks after starting the medication.
Don’t overtrain. While regular exercise is important, please don’t overdo it. If you’re not sure if you’re overtraining then it probably is best to work with a certified personal trainer, even if it’s just for a single session.
Improve your posture and sleep habits. If your job involves sitting for prolonged periods of time there are a few things you can do. First of all, try to take frequent breaks. Set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to get up and walk around, or at the very least stand up at your workstation and stretch. Another option is to invest in a standing desk, or you can take it a step further and get a treadmill desk, which is what I have. Proper ergonomics is important, as you want to make sure the top of your computer screen is at eye level, make sure you have a ergonomic-friendly chair, and adjust your keyboard to a height where your elbows are bent approximately 90 degrees.
What’s Your Experience With Muscle and Joint Pain?
Have you experienced muscle and joint pain due to any of the factors I discussed in this blog post? If so, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. If you’re still experiencing muscle and/or joint pain please let me know! And if you have dealt with muscle and/or joint pain but it’s a thing of the past please let me know! Thank you!