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Muscle and Joint Pain With Thyroid Disease
Information on a Common Symptom

by Mary Shomon

While not generally well-known or understood, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a variety of muscle or joint-related symptoms.

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are known to cause what are called myopathies -- the medical term for diseases that affect skeletal muscle. Skeletal muscles are the muscles connected to your bones. An example of a skeletal muscle is your biceps in the upper arm, or the quadriceps in the thigh. Myopathies most often are seen in what are known as the proximal muscles. These are the muscles, such as in the thigh and shoulder area, that are closest to the center of the body. In myopathies caused by inflammation or metabolic conditions, such as autoimmune thyroid disease, white blood cells may attack parts of the muscle and the surrounding blood vessels, or abnormal levels of certain biochemical substances end up accumulating in your muscles, leading to weakness or pain.

Different thyroid conditions can also be associated with particular types of muscle and joint problems.

Muscle and Joint Pain With Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can create a variety of muscle and joint-related symptoms. Most commonly, these symptoms are due to swelling of the muscles, or swelling that is pressing on nerves. Various problems seen include:

  • General muscular weakness and pain, including cramps, and stiffness
  • General joint pain, achiness, stiffness, known as "arthropathy"
  • Tendonitis in the arms and legs
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-- which involves pain, tingling, weakness, achiness or numbness in the wrist, fingers or forearm. It is due to swelling of membranes that compress a nerve in the forearm.
  • Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome-- similar to carpal tunnel, with pain, tingling, burning and other discomfort in the arch of your foot, the bottom of the foot, possibly extending into the toes.
Graves' Disease/Hyperthyroidism

In hyperthyroidism or Graves' disease, you may experience muscle weakness and fatigue. Pain in muscles is not as common in hyperthyroidism.

Some people with hyperthyroidism actually lose muscle tone and strength, a process that can be referred to as "muscle wasting." Some common complaints include:
  • difficulty climbing stairs
  • difficulty holding or gripping objects with hands
  • difficult reaching arms above the head
In some cases, the muscles affected can include those that help you swallow, so you may have some hoarseness or difficulty swallowing.

When the Pain Doesn't Go Away

Typically, the worst of these symptoms and conditions do usually resolve with proper treatment of the thyroid condition. When muscle and joint pain does not go away with proper thyroid treatment, however, it's time to ask several questions.

First, if you are hypothyroid, are you getting sufficient and proper treatment? Insufficient thyroid hormone replacement, or a need for the additional hormone T3, may be required to resolve muscle and joint pain.

Second, if you are receiving optimal thyroid treatment, and still suffering joint and muscle problems, should you get a referral to a rheumatologist, for further evaluation and possible treatment? A trained rheumatologist can provide a more thorough evaluation for arthritis and fibromyalgia. Rheumatologists are experts in joint and muscle problems, and treat arthritis, some autoimmune conditions, various musculoskeletal pain disorders, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. To find a rheumatologist in your area, check the American College of Rheumatology's Doctor Directory.

Third, have you been evaluated for fibromyalgia? Interestingly, on the subject of fibromyalgia, some practitioners, such as Dr. John Lowe, actually believe that fibromyalgia is actually a manifestation of hypothyroidism. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that features specific tender points in the body, with widespread weakness and fatigue.

Fourth, should you look into alternative therapies? Some patients with chronic joint and muscle pain related to their thyroid conditions have had success with therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and myofascial therapy. In terms of supplements, researchers at the National Institutes Of Health's National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases have found that glucosamine and chondroitin "may have some efficacy against the symptoms of [osteoarthritis]."

Sticking Out Our Necks and this website are Copyright Mary Shomon, 1997-2003. All rights reserved. Mary Shomon, Editor/Webmaster
All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.