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Muscle and joint pain from hypothyroidism

By Dr. Mary James, ND

Chronic muscle or joint pain is a symptom of low thyroid that people hardly ever associate with the condition — despite the fact that as many as 80% of people suffer from it. Hypothyroidism is common in women, especially as we age. One in six of us women will be hypothyroid by the age of 60, and in a significant number of women, low thyroid will go undiagnosed — often because symptoms can be confusing or misleading. Unfortunately, many women experience years of needless suffering, and worse, when a thyroid condition is finally caught by their doctors, it is already at a stage that requires medication.image

There has to be a better way, and there is when you learn to tune into your body and recognize red flag warning signs that your thyroid is sending you to take action now.

Are you experiencing weird muscle pains and joint aches that seem to happen out of nowhere? Here’s what you need to know about low thyroid function and how it can lead to body pain, including joint pain, muscle aches or stiffness, muscle weakness and muscle cramping.

video of dr. mary james discussing muscle pain and low thyroid.

Why does low thyroid function cause body pain?

Your thyroid regulates metabolism, including how your body burns fuel for energy. So with low thyroid function, you can have a slower or defective metabolism, including in your muscles — and this means that fuel isn’t being burned efficiently. With low thyroid function, your carnitine levels can drop too. Carnitine is a natural compound in the body that burns fat for energy.

You know that uncomfortable feeling of lactic acid build-up in your muscles when you’ve exercised real hard? Low carnitine levels make that pain a whole lot worse. With low thyroid function you can also have muscle weakness. This is mostly due to malfunctioning mitochondria in your muscles. Remember that mitochondria are the energy-producing machinery in your cells.

Muscle weakness can also be due to insulin resistance, and with that, glucose has trouble getting into the cells to be used for energy. Remember, your thyroid keeps things moving — but it’s also responsible for keeping a lot of things in place in the body where they’re supposed to be. With hypothyroidism, fluid can accumulate in your soft tissues and joints, which can lead to stiffness and discomfort. Calcium can also have a harder time getting back into the muscles. What does that do? It can lead to prolonged muscle contractions.

What can you do?

The good news in all of this depressing discussion is that your body pain might just be due to something as simple as low thyroid function. If you think you’re suffering from low thyroid, I really encourage you to get evaluated by your healthcare practitioner. There are lots of different possible causes of chronic joint or muscle pain, but this is such a common symptom of low thyroid, and hypothyroidism is so common — and so easy to diagnose — that it should be one of the first things to check with your doctor. And if that is what’s going on, and your thyroid function is corrected, you’re going to feel better in other ways as well!

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Other thyroid mystery symptoms

Still not sure if your problems are related to your thyroid? Be on the lookout for other common and not-so-common symptoms that can indicate low thyroid. These include weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, depression, cold sensitivity, dry skin, yellowing of the skin on your palms and soles of your feet, constipation, infertility and menstrual irregularities, and brittle fingernails. Experiencing any of these symptoms makes it important to check in on your thyroid health. Your next step? Find out what you need to discuss with your doctor about thyroid testing, and the specific thyroid tests to ask for to get a full and complete picture of your thyroid function.

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Last Updated: January 10, 2024
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