Is Your Chronic Pain Related to Your Thyroid Health?

Is Your Chronic Pain Related to Your Thyroid Health?

I hear from so many Hypothyroid Mom readers struggling with chronic pain. Doctors often completely overlook their thyroid as a possible culprit.

Written by Jessica Drummond, MPT, CCN, CHC, Integrative Pelvic Health Institute

After practicing as a physical therapist for more than a decade, I understand how frustrating and challenging it can be for anyone to live with and to overcome chronic pain. Pain was once thought of as a very specific signal of tissue damage. You might remember the image from high school biology of a person touching a hot fire and then sending a oneway signal up to the brain to illustrate that the brain “gets the signal” that the pain is a sign of damage to the poor person’s burnt finger. We now understand that pain is a nonspecific signal both to the brain from the body and from the brain to the body.

Pain often feels more intense and more diffuse when the person is fearful, under stress, is lacking support, has difficulty detoxifying, has a hormone or autoimmune issue, or has a history of an injury or pain condition in the area where the pain is occurring. Pain can feel less intense if the person experiencing it has more support, better access to healthcare, or a clearer understanding of the pain as being a nonspecific signal indicating that something needs to change (it may be physical or emotional, or both), but not necessarily that there is a serious, life threatening tissue or organ damage in the area. In fact, right now I have a burn on my arm that doesn’t hurt at all. While someone else is currently experiencing real, severe pain for which she and her doctors have been unable to find any underlying cause.

Now, in my functional nutrition practice, I look at the body through a far wider, more holistic lens. Pain can be a symptom that results from complex interactions between systems, not just as the result of an inflamed nocioceptor (pain sensing nerve) in the skin or organ.

For example, one of my recent clients dramatically reduced her chronic pelvic pain (for her that included bladder pain and pelvic floor and vulvar pain) by employing an interdisciplinary approach. Her tools and support included hands on physical therapy treatment to the muscles of her pelvic floor, making specific recommended changes to her diet, using regular guided imagery and other strategies to induce relaxation, changing her perspective on her grown daughter’s life choices, sharing the cleaning duties more with her younger children, and working through her intimacy challenges with her partner.

What does pain have to do with your thyroid health?

The thyroid is an essential part of the endocrine system, and as early as 1959, through the 1970’s, and as recently as 2008, cases have been reported in the medical research of patients presenting with chronic, generalized muscle pain in multiple parts of the body, including the wrists, back, upper back, arms, legs, neck and ankles[1. Wilson, J, Walton, JN. Some muscular manifestations of hypothyroidism. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1959 Nov;22:3204][2. Golding, D. Hypothyroidism presenting with musculoskeletal symptoms. Ann Rheum Dis. 1970 Jan;29(1):104][3. Sbrocchi AM, Chédeville G, Scuccimarri R, Duffy CM, Krishnamoorthy P. Pediatric hypothyroidism presenting with a polymyositislike syndrome and increased creatinine: report of three cases. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;21(1):8992] related specifically to diminished thyroid function. In many of those cases, the pain was made worse with exposure to cold weather and was sometimes combined with fatigue, cramping, numbness or tingling. In the more recent cases, muscle enzymes were found to be elevated and creatinine increased. In some of these cases, when the patients were simply treated with thyroid hormone, the pain resolved. But, it’s not always that simple.

In many cases of chronic pain, there are multiple systems involved. The pain can stem from an autoimmune response to a food that the person ate that she was sensitive to, especially if she was also struggling with digestive issues like intestinal permeability (leaky gut) or an imbalance in the healthy vs. infectious bacteria in her digestive system.[4. Shaoul R, Lerner A. Associated autoantibodies in celiac disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2007 Sep;6(8):55965. Epub 2007 Mar 6] Any kind of inflammation that starts in the digestive system can travel via the inflammatory messengers (cytokines) through the bloodstream to fire up pain in the muscles and joints of the arms, legs, pelvis, back or neck. The inflammatory cytokines can also cause inflammation in the brain, which can make a person more sensitive to pain or make the stress response system more sensitive, which can contribute to the pain feeling more severe.

With abnormal stress response and adrenal dysregulation the combination of fatigue and pain are common. If you have a previous or concurrent autoimmune diagnosis (such as Hashimoto’s), the underlying endocrine (hormone) system issues are even more likely related to the fatigue, and muscle and joint pain.[5. Greenfield JR, Samaras K. Evaluation of pituitary function in the fatigued patient: a review of 59 cases. Eur J Endocrinol. 2006 Jan;154(1):14757]

The research on the connection between the thyroid and pain supports the theory that chronic pain of the joints, spine, muscles or pelvis is a common symptom of autoimmune thyroid issues such as postpartum thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s. In some cases, the pain is the only reported symptom. Once these patients are further assessed, thyroid antibodies are commonly found in addition to abnormal blood levels of free T4 and/ or free T3. Pain syndromes and autoimmune issues are commonly associated in the research. For example, women who struggle with endometriosis have much higher rates of autoimmune and endocrine disorders including autoimmune hypothyroidism.[6. Sinaii N, Cleary SD, Ballweg ML, Nieman LK, Stratton P. High rates of autoimmune and endocrine disorders, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and atopic diseases among women with endometriosis: a survey analysis. Hum Reprod. 2002 Oct;17(10):271524]

Holistically nourishing your thyroid with supportive nutrients, thyroid medications, supplements, mind-body practices to induce relaxation and reduce the sensitivity of the brain and endocrine system to stress, coaching to minimize emotional stressors and improve resilience, detoxification strategies to minimize the toxic load on the thyroid, and nutrition plans that reduce exposure to food sensitivities and support digestive healing can all be useful tools for healing complex chronic pain.

If you have chronic pain, what can you do to start feeling better today?

1. Recognize that your pain is a signal that something is out of balance in your life (it could be your thyroid or something else), it’s not a clear signal about the location or severity of a tissue or organ damage. This is really important because it means you can be less afraid of your pain and instead use it as a guide to help you to find relief. Are there times when you feel better? Does eating certain foods or performing certain kinds of exercise or activity or being around certain people make your pain feel better or worse? Start tracking your pain in a journal and especially note times when your pain improves or resolves. Those are clues along your healing path.

2. If you have pelvic pain, have you seen a specialist physical therapist to assess the muscles and joints of your pelvis and pelvic floor? Even if you have never had children (or are a man), tight muscles in your pelvic floor can cause you to feel pain in other areas of your pelvis and may make you feel like your back, bladder or reproductive organs are injured.

3. If you know that you have an autoimmune thyroid condition or that your endocrine system is otherwise stressed (as in adrenal fatigue), reduce your sugar intake and increase your intake of selenium. In research on pregnant women, by adding 200 mcg of selenium daily through the pregnancy, the women reduced their incidence of both postpartum thyroiditis and permanent autoimmune thyroiditis.[7. Negro R, Greco G, Mangieri T, Pezzarossa A, Dazzi D, Hassan H. The influence of selenium supplementation on postpartum thyroid status in pregnant women with thyroid peroxidase autoantibodies. J Clin Endocrinol Metab] I would generally recommend selenium in a multi-vitamin. Here’s one of my favorite recipes that includes Brazil nuts, which are very high in selenium…Brazil Nut and Rocket Pesto from Deliciously Ella.

About Jessica Drummond

Jessica Drummond, MPT, CCN, CHC, the Founder and CEO of Custom Hormone Healing and The Integrative Pelvic Health Institute, is passionate about caring for and empowering women who struggle with women’s health conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS, bladder pain, low libido, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, period pain, painful sex, and post-surgical, orthopedic, or pregnancy related pelvic conditions. She is equally passionate about educating and supporting clinicians in confidently and safely using integrative tools to treat chronic pelvic pain, bowel and bladder, and other women’s health issues.


Take Back Your Thyroid Health! Sign up and never miss a post - it's FREE

About Dana Trentini

Who knew that little butterfly-shaped thyroid gland at the base of my neck could affect my life so completely? I founded Hypothyroid Mom in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Winner of two 2014 WEGO Health Activist Awards: Health Activist Hero & Best In Show Twitter. *Hypothyroid Mom includes Affiliate links. Connect with me on Google+


  1. I’m begging and endless searching for help. Everything wrong with me falls under hypo or Hashimotos. I’m on my second endocrinologist and my labs are low, but in the normal range. I was just put on the lowest dose of synthesis. I can’t live like this anymore. I have often thought of suicide. Severe short and long term memory loss, the pain in every inch of my body, the burning tongue syndrome that started in April 2013. I feel like a hypochondriac. I’m passed fatigue. I cannot stay awake. I can read about two sentences the next thing I know is my book is on the floor and it does it all the time even if I don’t feel sleepy. I cry a lot. I cannot find a doctor to dx me with anything. I know this isn’t in my imagination. I was beginning to think I had that disease where you have everything wrong but it’s all in your head. The doctor’s are looking at me like I do have that disease. My new endocrinologist is in South Bend Indiana. I have four other specialist’s. I’m tired and drained. I need for someone to believe me that it is real. I wish I could take part in clinical studies. Do I go to Mayo, Chicago or throw in the towel. Lord help me.. I don’t even know who I’m sending this to.

    Kelly Coley


    • In addition to my recent post I forgot to mention my body temperature. I’m soooo hot 95 percent of the time. NEVER cold. I don’t understand it, but it is severe. I take cool shower’s and when I’m done I turn it on colder and hold my head under it. When I dry my hair the sweat pours off of my face and I turn the dryer on cool and I have to coil down my scalp and face. Then I go set in front of a fan for ten min. I sleep with a fan on in the winter when the house temp is about 69. My sister is completely the opposite, she freezes. I do have family history of thyroid disease. I developed rosaceae. So I walk around with two lg red circles on each cheek. My heat problem bothers me the most.

      • Esther Hunt says:

        I understand exactly where you are coming from. It took 3 years and still working on tiring to get healthy or at least a little bit of relief from a lot of what you are talking about. I have also changed Doctors a few times especially when they miss something that I caught. I did find some help from a Doc in South Carolina. She had me read a book called The Miracle of Bio‑identical Hormones: How I Lost My Fatigue, Hot Flashes, …
        Book by Michael E. Platt
        It made so much since. I have also started this therapy and I have started to feel better. I do still have my bad days here and there but more good than bad and I thank God for that. Don’t give up!!!! I took control of my medical all together. Every doc apt I ask for a complete print out of everything that was done and the solution. Every time they do blood work as well. I look up these test online and read as much as I can and If I have questions I ask the Doc and or nurse. They have started a patient portal for me to communicate with them thru e-mail. I also keep a journal of how I’m feeling and what I have eaten and drank that day. Life is too short to give up. To this day I have had or still have H. Pylori, premenopausal, Hashimoto’s, Hypothyroid and boarder line diabetic. I have had my gallbladder removed as well as a partial hysterectomy. I take meds for reflux as well. On my bad days I wake up with tight swollen hands. My feet numb along with my fingers. I stretch them out and wiggle them before I can even get out of bed. Then there is the cool feeling but with hot flashes so I change my clothes a few times a day to how I’m feeling. Then there is the joint and mussel pain. I try to exercise and do the normal house work but when I go to bed I’m sure to be in some major pain for the night. I just do my best make notes and let the doc know as soon as I can to see if any relief is out there for what I’m going thru. I am very luck that my husband is very supportive. Good luck and I hope putting all this out there can help someone if not you. feel better soon and keep your head up.

      • Dear Kelly
        I read your post tonight as I too search for answers. I have a long history of digestive disorders as a child and surgeries that cannot be rebersed. A fee years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimotos, adrenal
        Fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. I am so weary, worn and often sad – something that is so different than the ” real” me. I have high cortisol causing anxiety
        I just got 3 mri’s back with degenerative discs narrowing of spine opening causing numbness and pain. I am spiraling downward.
        I say all this to let you know you arent alone.
        As tired as I am you and I cannot give up. Who wants us better more than we do?
        You definitely have something wrong that is causing this pain and fatigue.
        I highly recommend going to a D.O. Who seed the body as a whole and mot just parts. Try going Gluten free for a few months or sugarfree
        I am convinced our answers lie in diet and food sensitivities. Simple but hard.
        I believe in a Good God who heals and delivers. Who gives wisdom and guidance. My prayers will with you and for you. Hoping you find this and we soon will proclaim these days far behind us.

    • Sharon Brown says:

      I have had chronic pain in my right groin/hip area for 16 years. I know exactly how you feel. After 12 doctors and 5 surgeries (one for a double hernia that I don’t even think I had, Dr had a Hummer and I think he had a payment due), I finally gave up. I live with it and I am taking an anti-depressant to help me cope. You would think with today’s technology I would be able to find an answer. It is so frustrating. Hang in there!

      • I have been telling my family doctor for over 2 years that I have been extremely tired and have widespread body pain. In January 2016 I had blood work done and my doctor said that my thyroid was low and he prescribed synthroid. I toss and turn about 10 to 15 times a night from pain and in the morning I am stiff and sore all over for nearly an hour. After seeing a rheumatologist, she said she thinks I should see an endocrinologist. I am sick and tired of appointments. I am 55 years old, I work part time and after 4 hours work, I feel like I could lie down and sleep for 9 hours. I walk at least 1/2 an hr to an hr a day because I have low bone mass and walking is good for it. I try to keep a positive mind and attitude but it is quite hard because I am used to feeling very energetic and well.

        • Pamela Smith says:

          Hi Rita and all,
          Have you all tried LDN (low-dose Naltrexone) for the pain from Hashimotos?

          I had a surgery a few weeks ago and have been off the LDN for that time (and a week prior to the surgery) and I can tell you that I am going back on it tonight!!!

          I’d been on it for about a year and a half and did not fully recognize how much it helped with the daily pain. But now I am feeling that pain again and it is AWFUL. Hurts in my joints AND in my muscles.

          And not only does LDN stop pain, but it improves mood and reduces Hashimotos antibodies.

          I can not emphasize enough how you need to look into LDN and start it for pain relief and these other benefits!!

Speak Your Mind