Updated: Mar 4, 2019
We've been led to believe joint pain is a normal part of aging. Not so! Chronic joint pain is a symptom of an underlying issue.
This post dives into 5 common root causes and two case studies in which years of "you're-stuck-with-it" joint pain were resolved without drugs or physical therapy.
Let’s start with the six things that could be at the root of aching joints and muscles:
1. Lyme disease
This may seem like a no-brainer, though many don’t think they could possibly have Lyme because they a.) don’t live in New England or b.) haven’t seen the red bullseye rash. Lyme is actually all over the US, and about 30% - 57% of people don't get the rash.
When joint pain is related to a tick-borne illness, it usually comes on quickly and is often asymmetrical and/or migrating, meaning that one day or week one of your hips might bother you, then the pain may move to a shoulder or an elbow or the other hip.
If you have unexpected joint pain and have recently been in the woods or experienced flu-like symptoms, it would be worth discussing the possibility of Lyme with your doctor.
2. Gluten sensitivity
You may have a sensitivity to gluten that you don’t know about (this is possible even when you have no gut symptoms). This damages your gut lining and causes intestinal permeability. This means that larger food particles are able to get through your gut’s barrier before being properly broken down. Your immune system sees them as the enemy, and creates antibodies against them to help clear them out.
The problem is, molecules in gluten look a lot like molecules in your joints. So, if your immune system becomes overzealous, your joint tissue can be mistakenly targeted (this is called molecular mimicry). This can cause joint damage which leads to pain and inflammation. And if you are genetically pre-disposed, it can even trigger rheumatoid arthritis. (Depending on genetics, molecular mimicry issues with gluten can also lead to other autoimmune disorders affecting the thyroid, brain, and more).
3. Mold exposure
This is something to consider if you live in a house that has had a history of basement flooding, or roof leaks, or other issue where water has crept in behind your walls, ceiling, or flooring. Molds secrete mycotoxins, which are toxins that protect the mold as it stakes out a new territory.
While some molds aren’t very harmful to us, others, like stachybotrys (the black mold you’ve likely heard about) and aspergillus produce mycotoxins that can cause a number of health problems (some can be quite serious).
Common symptoms include joint pain and muscle stiffness, especially in the morning. This may be paired with vertigo, night sweats, fatigue, brain fog, recurring sinus symptoms, and more.
4. Heavy metal toxicity
We all get exposed to heavy metals through things like food, water, soda cans, the pans we cook on, deodorants, amalgam fillings, vaccines, and the air we breathe. With prolonged exposure, it can be hard for the body to keep up with removing these metals, especially if you have other health issues. When this happens, our bodies will often sequester them in our tissues, e.g., fat or bones, to get them out of circulation.
While mercury is often linked to joint pain, lead and cadmium are also culprits because they can be stored in bones and cartilage, which displaces calcium. This can cause inflammation, joint pain, and osteoporosis.
Studies have shown that heavy metal toxicity can also contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.
If your body is not producing and utilizing enough thyroid hormones, many issues can result, one of them being joint pain. The reason for this is that when your thyroid hormones are low, your metabolism is slowed. This reduced metabolism can result in fluid build up (body isn't effectively clearing it) and thus inflammation and pain in the joints.
Common joints affected are hips, knees, hands, wrists, and feet. Though back pain is also common, as are general aches and pains.
If your thyroid is the issue, other symptoms you may experience are things like being constantly cold and tired, having dry hair and skin and brittle nails, and having unexplained weight gain.
6. Structural misalignment
I'll always suggest people see a chiropractor if they have chronic pain. Structural issues as well as subluxations (or misalignments) in the spine and neck can interrupt nerve messaging, and can cause both chronic and acute pain. This type if issue can be caused by impact, such as from sports injuries, a fall, a car accident, even the trauma of birth! Poor posture can also put pressure of different areas of the body (e.g., you could have elbow pain that stems from a posture issue).