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The Effects of Hormones on Pain

Pain is influenced by a number of factors. A variety of hormones can play a role in pain sensitivity.


Thyroid issues

Hypothyroidism is a common condition, but can take a while to be diagnosed. Its symptoms are broad and vague, but increased nerve pain can be one of them. When thyroid hormone levels drop, peripheral neuropathy becomes more common. Symptoms of neuropathy include:

  1. pins and needles

  2. shooting pains

  3. muscle weakness

  4. poor balance

Neuropathy is a condition in which nerves become damaged. This might involve damage to their insulation layer, which can interfere with the signals sent through them. Peripheral neuropathy just means the neuropathy does not affect the brain or spinal cord. The illustration above uses carpal tunnel syndrome as an example. If you present to your osteopath with carpal tunnel syndrome, they will use a detailed case history to screen for other causes of your symptoms.

Peripheral neuropathy is associated with another hormone issue: diabetes. The good news is the better your diabetes is controlled, the less likely you are to develop side effects.

Blood tests to identify increased pain sensitivity may also show low vitamin B12 or vitamin D. The ways in which these two vitamins exacerbate pain are different, but both significant. Dietary and lifestyle changes may help with mild deficiencies, or your GP may prescribe an injection or supplement.

Sex Hormones and Pain

Monthly patterns of pain are sometimes apparent for women with a menstrual cycle. Migraine and chronic pain conditions can be affected in this way. Research also shows a link between the monthly cycle and jaw pain and fibromyalgia.

With this connection in mind, it stands to reason that pain could change again during the menopause. Oestrogen levels decrease or may be replaced by synthetic hormones using HRT. Research shows that women are generally more sensitive to pain than men, and differences in sex hormones have been cited as one of many reasons for this. This finding should be considered a possible reason for higher rates of chronic pain conditions among women than men.

Oestrogen also plays a major role in bone health. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are much more likely to affect women as they reach the menopause. Low bone density makes bones more prone to fracture, sometimes due to only mild impact. Lasting pain after a fall that might be described as a deep ache could be a sign of a fracture. If in doubt, speak to your GP for an x-ray. Similarly, collagen levels reduce over time, reducing the elasticity of tendons and ligaments. As we age, we are more predisposed to ligament rupture or tendon sprains. Sometimes a rotator cuff tear can be caused by a mild fall, so be sure to mention any trauma to your painful area, even if it seems insignificant.

Helping Yourself

Although ageing is compulsory, there are things you can do to help yourself. Eating well and staying hydrated are hugely important for musculoskeletal health. A varied diet with plenty of protein will help maximise collagen production- you don’t need to consume collagen to synthesise it. One of the best things you can do to maintain good bone density is to stay active- particularly with weight bearing exercise. Your osteopath can help you find an exercise plan that works for you.


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