If you’re in pain on daily basis, you’re not alone. Chronic pain is pretty common; in 2011, 100 million Americans were suffering from chronic pain, and that number may have increased. Unlike acute pain, which comes from an injury and lasts a relatively short time, chronic pain can come from unknown causes. While the pain may start with an injury and then persist for months or years, it can also come from an underlying cause. If you are in pain and can’t seem to solve it, get to the root cause so you can solve it. These 10 issues are all possible hidden causes of chronic pain.
1. Low Thyroid
Hypoactive thyroid (also called hypothyroidism) is an increasingly common ailment in America. Achiness is a symptom of underactive thyroid, so pain could be linked to thyroid activity. Right now, many people with low thyroid symptoms believe their thyroids are healthy because their doctor said their lab results were normal. However, most doctors only check TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone)– not free T3, reverse T3, or TPO (thyroid peroxidase) antibodies, all of which are more accurate reflections of thyroid activity and disease. TPO antibodies alert people to Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune condition and the main cause of hypothyroidism. So if your doctor is only checking a couple thyroid markers, do your research, check your symptoms, get more tests, and figure out if a hypoactive thyroid is causing your chronic pain.
2. Low Sex Hormones
Low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men can cause chronic pain. As women age and go through menopause, low estrogen can cause achiness. Low testosterone in men can lower stamina and inhibit recovery after exercise, which can mean more post-workout soreness. Men and women can try natural supplements to treat low hormones, but if they do not help, it’s a good idea to consult a holistic healthcare practitioner.
3. Chronic Infections
“A chronic infection, such as Epstein-Barr, can underlie chronic pain and needs to be diagnosed and treated by a knowledgeable health care professional. Lyme disease, the fastest-growing bug-borne infectious disease in the United States, is often overlooked and can mimic serious conditions, including Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.” Contrary to popular belief, Lyme disease does not always present with a bulls-eye rash. It can develop slowly and eventually present joint pain. “Effective treatment—which conventional physicians may not be trained to deliver—requires an integrative approach, including targeted antibiotics and nutrients to support the immune system. To find a knowledgeable physician, visit ilads.org.”
4. SugarPhoto by Elisa Azzali
Sugar causes inflammation, which in turn causes and perpetuates pain. While removing all dietary sugar may be enough for some people to relieve their pain, others may need to cut out grains entirely. Learn to read labels carefully for the many different names of sugar. Sugar is hidden in tons of foods where you wouldn’t expect it- even in things you think are healthy, like plain canned beans! Cut out sugar and eat a whole food diet with plenty of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation and pain.
5. Body Fat
Excess body weight can increase systemic inflammation and decrease your threshold of pain. To lose excess fat, especially the most harmful visceral belly fat, take a slow and steady approach to lifestyle changes that will help you reduce excess fat. Remember, the important thing is not to lose weight (which often includes lean body mass), but to reduce body fat percentage. Do this by doing both cardio and strength training for exercise, reducing simple carbs, eating plenty of protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and fruits, and managing stress. Fad and crash dieting will not help. They actually increase stress on your body, so in the long term, they could lead to more fat storage around your middle. Also remember that the end goal here is not to look a certain way– your goal is to reduce your pain and improve your overall health.
6. Lack of Sleep
Like some of the other issues in this list, lack of sleep increases inflammation, which in turn increases pain. “One study found that getting extra sleep reduced pain sensitivity as much as 60 mg of codeine,” but unfortunately, chronic pain and sleep deprivation can create a negative cycle, each worsening the other. Check out some of our previous blog posts for ideas on how to improve your sleep:
7. Food Intolerances
Lately there has been a lot of talk about food allergies to common allergens like dairy, gluten, corn, soy, and more. However, these aren’t technically allergies (like those that cause anaphylactic shock); rather, they are food intolerances or sensitivities. Eating foods repeatedly for extended periods of time can cause intolerance, and eating foods you are intolerant to can damage the gut lining, eventually leading to leaky gut syndrome. If food intolerances aren’t identified and eliminated, you could be inadvertently raising your body’s inflammation and triggering more pain. To start figuring out intolerances, try an elimination diet. Check out our blog post about food allergies for more information.
8. Food Additives
Artificial food additives and preservatives “can lead to the disruption of nerve communication, congestion of lymphatic drainage, and generalized inflammation—all of which can manifest as chronic pain.” Avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and additives like MSG, which can also hide under different names.
9. Calcium-Magnesium Imbalance
Most of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diet because our soil has been depleted by over-farming and mono-cropping. However, we tend to get plenty of calcium in the usual American diet. Balancing out the ratio of calcium and magnesium in your diet can help with a variety of ailments, including many types of pain. Try a magnesium supplement as well as Epsom salt baths for pain relief.
“Studies show that lack of physical activity predisposes healthy people to develop chronic pain later in life. In contrast, getting some regular exercise—as little as one hour per week—reduces risk, and helps to counteract the pain-promoting effects of being overweight.” If high impact exercise makes your pain worse, try gentle types of exercise like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong.
Chronic Pain: Other Potential Causes and Factors to Consider
- Stress: High stress levels can make pain worse. Try to calm yourself with routines like physical activity, fulfilling hobbies, and restorative time alone or with loved ones, depending on what feels energizing to you.
- Emotional Trauma: Chronic pain can sometimes come from emotional, not physical, sources. You may want to try working on the underlying emotional pain to help heal physical pain.
- Coexistent Conditions: Disorders and diseases like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, autoimmune conditions, and more, can cause or influence chronic pain. If you have other symptoms in addition to pain, research the symptoms and see a doctor to figure out if you have a medical condition.