Six Surprising Sources of Pain

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
May 02, 2023
Six Surprising Sources of Pain

Thyroid problems, insomnia, and even lack of exercise can lead to pain. Many cases have multiple causes. Here's what you should know and what you can do.

As you age, it’s common to have little or not-so-little aches and pains.

If your pain lasts a while, you may need to look at many angles.

“By far the most important thing to understand about treating chronic pain is that it is difficult because it almost never has one cause: It is extremely multifactorial. It’s always a game of Whack-A-Mole with chronic pain — but with some really strange moles. And well-camouflaged moles,” writes Paul Ingraham, of

Don’t be surprised if you’re told your pain has nothing to do with an injury. Less than 40 percent of chronic pain cases are traceable to an event. About a third are classified as having an “unknown” cause.


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Chronic pain is pain that lasts for several months or longer. It can affect you to the point you can no longer work, eat properly, exercise, or enjoy life.

It is one of the costliest health problems in America, including medical expenses, lost income, compensation payouts, and legal fees.

Here are some surprising sources of pain and how to address them.

Not enough use

It’s counterintuitive, but a workout can reduce muscle pain. Think of a restless boy who starts acting out, punching his kid sister. Get him outdoors on a scooter for an hour and he’s sweet-tempered again.

Interrupted or too little sleep

Lack of deep sleep diminishes your tolerance to pain. The problem may be sleep apnea, insomnia, or — in a feedback loop — your pain waking you up.

First, address sleep problems. Increase your aerobic exercise to 30 minutes a day, which will make it easier to get deep sleep. Turn off your smartphone and computer an hour or more before bedtime. You may need a new mattress or a test for sleep apnea.

Not enough estrogen

A drop in estrogen during menopause also lowers pain thresholds. Vijay Vad, MD, a sports medicine specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and the author of “Stop Pain: Inflammation Relief for an Active Life,” recommends taking 2,000 mg daily of curcumin.

A compound in turmeric, curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory, but it is hard to absorb in a powder, unless it is combined with a black pepper. Northeast Natural’s Triple Curc formula and others address that problem. So does a traditional Indian curry dish.

Note that curcumin can interact with anticoagulant drugs. You might want to avoid it if you have gallstones.

If you have other menopausal issues, you might talk to your gynecologist about hormone replacement therapy.

Low thyroid

Vad recommends that anyone with arthritis or any type of joint or muscle pain that has taken a turn for the worse ask for a thyroid function panel. The test measures levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and other hormones in your blood.

A normal TSH is between 0.4 mlU/L and 4.0 mlU/L. Medication can relieve pain within a month, even if your level is considered “borderline.”

Lyme disease

If you live in an area where Lyme disease is a problem, find a bulls-eye rash on your body, and have headaches or joint aches, a doctor may give you antibiotics immediately. But some people fail to notice a tick bite or rash.

Antibodies against Lyme disease bacteria take 4 to 6 weeks to develop. Wait at least a month to get tested with either the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), an indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) test, or a PreVue test that provides results within an hour. If you get a positive or uncertain result, follow up with a Western blot test.

What if you had a negative result at the first stage but still have pain or unexplained fatigue? You may have been tested too early, so try again.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other tests – such as urine antigen, immunofluorescent staining, and lymphocyte transformation – remain unproven.

To get a second opinion, look for a specialist through the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society


If you spend more time alone than you’d like — or feel people don’t enjoy your company — your body responds with alarm. Loneliness, which is arguably as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes, seems to increase your vulnerability to chronic pain.


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May 02, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN