Thyroid Disease and Neck Pain

thyroid dysfunction and neck pain causes

It is easy to see how even slight swelling of the thyroid gland could trigger pinched nerve pain.

The link between thyroid dysfunction and neck pain can be quite complex and is more than simply pain caused by the swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck itself. There are myriad bodily processes reliant on proper functioning of the thyroid gland and many patients with muscle cramps and weakness, an increased sensitivity to pain, rheumatic pain and even carpal tunnel syndrome are unaware of the links between their symptoms and their thyroid gland.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism (underactivity of the thyroid gland) usually develops slowly, meaning that patients may feel unwell for some time but not realise quite how unwell they really are. Fatigue, slower mental processing, weight gain, depression and mood swings and even changes in sweating and sensitivity to the cold are all signs of a poorly functioning thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is basically a slowing down of bodily processes and patients may find that they heal less quickly, bruise more easily, begin to have thinning hair, menstrual difficulties, constipation and even changes in their lipid profile, leading to an increased risk of cardivoascular events.

Menopause, Pain and Thyroid Function

Low thyroid function is particularly common in women around the time of menopause, which can further confuse diagnosis as symptoms are often attributed to this change rather than to a treatable condition. Many continue, therefore, to suffer unnecessarily and some patients may even be misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, especially if muscles aches and pains are a primary symptom.

Thyroid Hormones

The thyroid gland secretes to main hormones; tetraiodothyronine (commonly referred to as thyroxine, or T4), and tri-iodothyronine (T3). The first of these is reliant on sufficient dietary tyrosine (an amino acid) and iodine, and the second is a similar hormone with one lesss iodine molecule. T3 is around ten times more active than its precursor, T4, and is responsible for around 90% of the functions carried out by the thyroid gland.

Iodine and Thyroid Function

Unfortunately, ensuring good thyroid health is not as simple as consuming large amounts of iodine and tyrosine-rich foods as too much of these can also cause problems. The usual recommendations for iodine consumption for a healthy adult or adolescent is 150mcg a day and most diets are thought to contain around 400-500mcg, with just 60-80mcg of this actually absorbed. The body does store iodine, however, meaning that the odd day below the 150mcg recommendation can be dealt with fairly well. When dietary insufficiencies continue, thyroid function is compromised.

Diet, Thyroid Disease and Neck Pain

Other nutritional factors in thryoid function include selenium and iron as the enzyme responsible for converting iodine into a reactive form is dependent on these minerals. The end product of the reaction of iodine with thyroid peroxidase is reactive iodine that can then bind to thyroglobulin, a polypeptide formed from tyrosine. Too little selenium, iron, iodine or tyrosine can compromise thyroid function. Conversely, an excess of these nutrients may also trigger thyroid problems through autoimmune mechanisms. Poor nutritional status in general is likely to compound any pain, including neck pain, that the patient is experiencing.

Why Thyroid Dysfunction Can Cause Neck Pain

Patients whose thyroid hormone levels are low may have a higher risk of problems with bone mineralisation, protein synthesis (and, therefore, healing and growth), nerve myleination and neuronal development. Musculoskeletal and neurological issues can arise due to thyroid gland dysfunction, adding to the incidence of neck pain caused simply by the swelling of thyroid tissue as the gland tries to boost activity by enlarging.

Hyperthryoidism and Neck Pain

A smaller number of patients experience neck pain related to hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the gland). This is where thyroid hormones are in excess and may precede autoimmune hypothyroidism, making diagnosis quite confusing for some. Muscle weakness, tiredness and pain in the neck due to goitre are all possible symptoms of hyperthyroidism which may require neck surgery to remove part of the thyroid gland or the use of radiation treatment to destroy some of the enlarged gland. The usual treatment is, however, medications to block thyroid hormone overproduction.

Seeking Treatment for Thyroid-Related Neck Pain

Patients with neck pain who have other symptoms of thyroid disease should seek medical attention in order to rule out these conditions. It may be that daily medication is all that is needed to address low thyroxine (T4) levels or dietary changes to ensure an adequate mineral and tyrosine supply. Not all neck pain is joint related, especially where the pain is not acute or isolated. Neck pain due to thyroid disease may not be as common as neck pain due to stress, arthritis or poor posture but it is a possibility worth considering in order to get appropriate treatment.

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