When you hear the term “joint pain,” you may think of arthritis. Arthritis can cause both pain and swelling, or inflammation in joints (the areas where bones in the body meet).
But arthritis isn’t the only possible cause of chronic pain. Hormonal imbalances may also contribute to joint pain. These imbalances sometimes happen in people with low testosterone, often called “low T.”
Your doctor can do an evaluation to determine whether your pain is associated with low T, arthritis, or an unrelated medical condition.
Low T develops when testosterone levels decrease in the body. This sex hormone is the primary one of its kind in the male body. According to guidelines by the American Urological Association, low testosterone may be diagnosed if your testosterone level is less than 300 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood.
While the natural aging process can lead to gradual drops in testosterone, it’s not normal to experience a significant decrease over a short period.
Some of the most common symptoms of low T include:
In addition to its role in the male reproductive system, testosterone also helps maintain bone health.
Arthritis is known for joint pain, but it comes in different forms with varying causes. The two main forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease. OA develops over time due to wear and tear on your joints.
While it’s possible to have low T and arthritis at the same time, testosterone problems are unlikely to cause RA. If your low T leads to excessive weight gain, you may be at a higher risk of developing OA.
When pain occurs due to excessive weight gain, you may experience it at any point where your bones meet. Joint pain is most likely to occur in the knees, hips, and back. Some people who have arthritis also have pain in their toes, wrists, and fingers.
One of the long-term risks of low T is osteoporosis. Unlike arthritis, osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones become fragile. Testosterone maintains bone density, so low T may contribute to osteoporosis.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, osteoporosis can be identified using a bone mineral density (BMD) test. The test can compare your bone density to the normal bone density numbers.
The more your BMD deviates from the norm, the more severe and established your osteoporosis is.
Maintaining bone density is important for preventing the loss of bone mass and possible fractures. Unlike joint pain, osteoporosis pain typically only occurs when you develop bone fractures.
You may also experience back pain due to weakened vertebrae. Recovering from fractures can be painful. While this can feel similar to joint pain, osteoporosis pain isn’t the same as arthritis.
Testosterone replacement therapy is the most common treatment for low T. It’s prescribed by a doctor in pill form or as a topical patch or gel.
Hormone therapy helps improve low sex drive and energy, and can increase bone density. Over time, you may find it easier to manage your weight and take pressure off of achy joints.
However, these treatments aren’t without risk. Hormone therapy isn’t recommended for men with a history of prostate cancer because the cancer is hormone-driven.
While low T treatments may help improve bone density and weight management, they won’t relieve joint pain on the spot.
If you experience regular joint pain, there are things you can do to get relief faster. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are two common over-the-counter pain relievers that can help ease arthritis pain. They also come in prescription strength.
Regular exercise can help with preventing future joint pain by strengthening the muscles surrounding joints.
Joint pain and low T aren’t necessarily related, but it’s possible to have both at once. Men who are obese are also at a greater risk of developing OA from excess pressure on the joints.
Low T therapies are unlikely to relieve joint pain on their own. Feeling better usually involves treating both joint pain and low T. But you can work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that’s right for your needs.