When hypothyroidism is painful: Musculoskeletal manifestations

When hypothyroidism is painful: Musculoskeletal manifestations

I can’t bear it.
Doctors tell me it’s not my thyroid.
They say there is nothing more they can do.
Some say it’s all in my head.

Scope of this pain issue

Musculoskeletal disorders are conditions affecting the bones, muscles, and connective tissues. The most common symptom of most musculoskeletal disorders is pain.

According to the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, the most common leading cause of disability for men was low back pain “resulting in the highest age-standardised rates of years lived with disability (YLDs) in 133 of 195 countries and territories, including every country in the high-income regions, central and eastern Europe, central Asia, Andean and Tropical Latin America, and eastern and central sub-Saharan Africa, as well as most countries in southeast Asia, north Africa and the Middle East, and western sub-Saharan Africa. Low back pain was the leading cause of age-standardised YLD rates for women in 104 of the 195 countries and territories.” Neck pain and other musculoskeletal disorders ranked in the top ten of more than half of the countries and territories.[1]

Half of all American adults (126.6 million of U.S. adults over the age of 18) reported being diagnosed with musculoskeletal conditions in 2012 according to the Executive Summary of The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States: Prevalence, Societal and Economic Cost” by the USA Bone & Joint Initiative.[2]

Musculoskeletal manifestions in hypothyroidism

“Thyroid hormones play an important role in the development, maturation and maintenance of morpho-functional integrity of locomotor system structures,” wrote a researcher in the Romanian Journal of Rheumatology.[3] The relationship between hypothyroidism and musculoskeletal conditions has appeared in the scientific literature since the 1800s.[4]

Shoulder pain and its relationship with thyroid disorders has been suspected since the late 1920s. More recently, the implication of thyroid disease in rotator cuff tendon tears has been studied.[5]

The neck stiffness and joint pain associated with hypothyroidism have been known for centuries.[6]

In 2016, 52 rheumatoid arthritis patients underwent thyroid function testing and 20 of the 52 patients (38.4%) had hypothyroidism.[7]

Carpal tunnel syndrome was discovered in 32.5% of patients with untreated primary hypothyroidism. Women were more vulnerable to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.[8,9]

Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), Dupuytren’s contracture, trigger finger, and limited joint mobility are common in patients with hypothyroidism as well.[9]

The prevalence of fibromyalgia is approximately 2-7% in the general global population but as high as 30-40% in the population with the thyroid autoimmune disease Hashimto’s thyroiditis.[10]

Based on a study which analyzed data from individuals who participated in health screening programs at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in northern Taiwan (2000–2010), both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism were significantly associated with gout.[11]

Tendinitis is another common painful presenting complaint in hypothyroidism. The Journal of Medical Case Reports includes the unusual (or maybe not so unusual) case of spontanous rupture of the long head of the biceps tendon in a 48-year-old woman with severe hypothyroidism.[12]

In a 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Rheumatology, the following disorders were found to be significant in 120 patients with primary hypothyroidism[13]:

body ache and myalgia (83.33%)
muscle cramps and stiffness (83.33%)
osteoarthritis (66.7%)
mild inflammatory arthritis involving hand joints (50%)
low back pain (50%)
arthralgia (25%)
adhesive capsulitis (20.8%)
limited joint mobility (16.67%)
rheumatoid arthritis (16.67%)
myopathy (8.33%)
systemic lupus erythematosus (8.33%)
carpal tunnel syndrome (6.6%)
fibromyalgia (5%)
trigger finger (4.1%)
Dupuytren’s contracture (3.33%)
Raynaud’s phenomenon (1.66%)
mixed connective tissue disease (1.66%)
tarsal tunnel syndrome (1.6%)


The relationship between hypothyroidism and musculoskeletal disorders is significant. Comprehensive thyroid testing including thyroid antibodies should be part of the workup of a patient presenting with musculoskeletal conditions. Musculoskeletal manifestations can serve as early signs of undiagnosed hypothyroidism and warning signs of hypothyroidism that is not optimally treated.

Psssst! Your pain is NOT in your head.


1. GBD 2016 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 195 countries, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet. 16 September 2017;390(10100):1211-1259.

2. Bone and Joint Initiative USA. The Impact of Musculoskeletal Disorders on Americans – Opportunities for Action. boneandjointburden.org

3. Parasca, I. Manifestari reumatologice in bolile tiroidei. EMCB. 01.07.2008.

4. Radu, I., et al. Musculoskeletal Impairment in Primary Hypothyroidism. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi. 2016;120(2):244-251.

5. Oliva, F., et al. Thyroid hormones enhance growth and counteract apoptosis in human tenocytes isolated from rotator cuff tendons. Cell Death Dis. 313;4(7):705.

6. Doyle, L. Myxoedema: some early reports and contributions by British authors, 1873-1898. J R Soc Med. 1991;84(2):103-106.

7. Joshi, R., et al. Prevalence of hypothyroidism in rheumatoid arthritis and its correlation with disease activity. Sage Journals. 20 Jan 2016;47(1):2017.

8. Eslamian, F., et al. Electrophysiologic Changes in Patients with Untreated Primary Hypothyroidism. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology. June 2011;28(3):323-328.

9. Cakir, M., et al. Musculoskeletal manifestations in patients with thyroid disease. Clinical Endocrinology. Sep 2003;59(2):162-7.

10. Haliloglu S, et al. Clinical Rheumatology. July 2017;36(7):1617-1621.

11. See, L.C., et al. Hyperthyroid and hypothyroid status was strongly association with Gout and Weakly Associated with Hyperuricaemia. PLoS One. 2014;9(12):e114579.

12. Pantazis, K., et al. Spontaneous rupture of the long head of the biceps tendon in a woman with hypothyroidism: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports. 2016;10:2.

13. Alakes, K.K., et al. Rheumatic manifestations in primary hypothyroidism. Indian Journal of Rheumatology. March 2013;8(1):8-13.

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About Dana Trentini

Dana Trentini founded Hypothyroid Mom October 2012 in memory of the unborn baby she lost to hypothyroidism. This is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consulting your physician regarding medical advice pertaining to your health. Hypothyroid Mom includes affiliate links including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.


  1. I am wondering what other tests I need to have. I have hypothyroidism. I have most of these systems. For the past three months I haven’t been able to sleep longer than an hour or two. After three or four days, I crash and get some sleep. Do any of you go to a musculoskeletal doctor for aches and pains!

    • Hi Shelly, I have been to see a neuromuscular dr. He gave me some relief but didn’t spend enough time loosening up my muscles. 15 minutes doesn’t do enough. I found an old school physiatrist that spent an hour and a half loosening up my muscles from neck to toes. He also prescribed a muscle relaxer because my muscles were in a constant stiffness. I found that some heart palpitations I was feeling were better as well. I was finding it hard to walk smoothly. I think a message therapist might be a good compromise. I’m thinking about going there next since the Physiatrist is very busy and far from home.

  2. Find a functional medicine clinic. I switched from Synthroid (synthetic) to Nature Throid and feel much better. I also started supplements and adaptogens. Don’t believe the “practical Drs” they don’t search for the source they just treat the symptom. Go see a functional medicine doctor ! Trust me

  3. I had my thyroid removed almost 20 years ago (Thyroid Cancer) and have suffered all of this for years and as I get older it seems to get worse. I pretty much just get to work and home. I have no energy and have lost all interest in everything as I am too exhausted and sore. I have 8 grandchildren, 7 of which are 5 and under. I feel guilty as I have no energy to be with them and therefore avoid them…I want to be with them but all I can do is sleep.
    I am on the synthroid supplement and my GP says my numbers are great and he doesn’t want to mess with that. I ache, I hurt, some days the pain is so much I just go back to bed. Every morning is a struggle to get moving. My joint aches are getting worse and spreading from one joint to the next. Some (most) days are worse than others. GP gave me
    To top it off I am a type 2 diabetic and I can’t get my sugars under control. I also suffer from accute pancreatitis (lost my Mom to Pancreatic Cancer).
    My GP says I don’t need an Endo as he has everything controlled.

  4. This is very interesting.its a shame that most doctors dont know about these things or are trained on the symptoms of certain things like hypothyroidism and the hyper too. They should find the cause and treat that instead they are taught to just concerntrate on t4 and tsh and give a tablet to people with it. You have to do your own research and do the best you can by altering your lifestyle and diet, try vitamins etc. I could go on…. but maybe if the root cause is identified then people wouldnt get more autoimmune issues and maybe their health wouldnt deteriorate.


    Would the removal of the Thyroid not relieve some or most/all of these chronic symptoms?

  6. Sheba Gomez says

    WHY is this such a SECRET and not tested across the board with CBC, when it is so prevalent and the most common complaint amongst patients, Year most mid or inder diagnosed disease? It’s a tragedy and doesn’t have to be! Pathetic!

  7. I was diagnosed with under active thyroid two years ago although had been suffering symptoms for much longer.I also have high cholesterol,osteoporosis and depression.
    Earlier this year I went to my G.P. with a list of symptoms:-
    Continual tiredness and fatigue,feeling of a lump in my throat,headaches,aching joints and muscles,anxiety,low libido etc.etc.
    He glanced at the list,handed it back to me and said that all the physical tests had been done so it must be a mental issue.
    Since then I have not returned to see him and as he is the only G.P. available at the practice I just do not know what to do next.
    How can I be feeling like this if my medication is supposedly o.k?

    • Teresa Erdman says

      I feel same way. You are not alone with this!

    • I feel the exact same way. Everything is normal or fine. I just need to exercise & eat right. Start being more active. I’m too tired to be active..

      • Louise Musial says

        Same here! Doctor said to me to be more active. Really? I have very few days that I feel like being active at all. After running errands like going to the grocery store, post office, drug store, etc., I’m exhausted! I get home and get my pjs on and that’s about it for the day.

    • I had all these symptoms, and more. I was finally sent to an endocronologist. At last I was given a reason as to why why I felt all theses symptoms. I was put on medications for hyporthyroidism and I have blood tests 2 -3 time a year to track my elevations. It has helped but will never go away. There are good days and there are other days where separate medical issues come into play. Just don’t give up. It’s not “just in your head” – its in your WHOLE body. Never feel quilty or weak for not feeling up to doing things, because its not you making this choice.

      • Melissa Pfaff says

        Hi Nancy.
        Wondering what the Endo prescribed/suggested that has helped you? I’ve tried generic and brand Synthroid alone and with T3 cytomel. The pains and other symptoms are getting worse. Always curious what others have tried that are working 😁

    • Hi Fleur, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis in January. I don’t think I would have gotten a diagnosis if I hadn’t gone to a Functional med dr. They do testing beyond the T3 and T4. Thyroperidase Ab and Thyroglobulin antibodies. TSH doesn’t give enough info if it’s autoimmune. My Dr. has me going gluten free and dairy free. Eating a diet big on vegetables and fruit and lean meats. He also prescribed LDN , low dose naltrexone. It might be hard to find a Dr. that prescribes LDN. I’ve done some research and am hoping it will work over time. Apparently it can take months for it to make the changes in the brain that are needed. He is hoping I will get better numbers making these changes. I suggest researching Dr. Amy Myers and Dr. Izabella Wentz.

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