The mention of testosterone tends to have one connotation: the hormones that fuel the male sex drive, and give them larger muscles and more hair. But testosterone has other functions, and fluctuations and imbalances in hormone levels can affect pain. This is especially common in people with arthritis or other joint problems, and increases the risk of developing thin and brittle bones.
Hormone levels change as a natural part of the aging process, and testosterone in particular declines in men over time after the age of thirty. As testosterone declines, men may notice symptoms such as increased fatigue, more bodily and muscle weakness, and less interest in sex, as well as depression. The changes in the amount of testosterone usually occur gradually in healthy men – sudden, extreme changes are not normal.
Low testosterone will not cause arthritis or joint damage directly, but it can affect arthritis symptoms: low levels can lead to increased weight gain, which puts more stress on the joints. Decreased levels of the hormone more directly affect bone conditions like osteoporosis; as testosterone declines, so does the density of the bones, which rely on hormones, among other things, for strength. Bones become more brittle and prone to fracturing at mild trauma, and this goes for men as well as women.
Some studies suggest that testosterone contributes to the ability to tolerate pain, so pain may feel more severe or noticeable in those whose levels are low. It’s also possible that chronic pain can lead to low testosterone, as it stresses the pituitary and hypothalamus glands to the point that they decrease their output.
Pain due to low testosterone levels may go unnoticed or misdiagnosed as first, since the symptoms are vague enough as to mirror other illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. A doctor will likely order a blood test to determine the exact cause before ruling out these other conditions; if they reflect low testosterone (lower than 300 nanograms per deciliter, in most men), that could be the source.
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