Some people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease also say that they get regular neck pain. If you are one of them, you might have wondered if your neck pain and celiac disease are connected. Since celiac disease can be responsible for a broad range of symptoms, its easy to blame the digestive condition for any other ailment that you experience. But, according to the evidence, celiac disease and neck pain aren't directly connected, although there are some ways that the two may be associated.
What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease also known as celiac sprue. When you have celiac and eat a protein called gluten, your body has an immune reaction as if it's fighting off an illness. People with celiac disease must monitor their diets carefully. You can find gluten in anything made with wheat, barley, or rye.
This immune response causes damage to your small intestine it over time. Your small intestine links your stomach to your large intestine (or colon). It absorbs a lot of the nutrients you eat and drink. After a while, your small intestine stops working well and you can't take in what you need from your food. The resulting condition is called malabsorption.
Digestive complaints are the most well-known symptoms of celiac disease. The Celiac Foundation tells us that those managing celiac disease often report nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, and weight loss. Some lesser-known symptoms include:
- Bones becoming less solid
- Difficulty thinking
- Headaches or migraines
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Itchy, blistery skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformis)
- Missed periods
- Mouth ulcers and canker sores
- Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
- Painful joints
- Spleen problems
Celiac disease affects not only your digestion but also your bones and joints. Your neck has seven bones and three joints, so there is plenty of room for celiac disease to cause pain.
Can Celiac Disease Cause Neck Pain?
The body houses many complicated and interworking systems. At first glance, it can be difficult to diagnose the link between celiac disease and neck pain.
For the most part, the majority of cases involving neck pain in people managing celiac disease will involve muscle strain, a condition relatively unrelated to celiac disease. However, celiac disease can affect multiple organs and systems within the body.
Electrolytes and Muscles
Untreated celiac disease can wreak havoc on the digestive tract as your small intestine reacts to gluten. After a while, you start having trouble absorbing nutrients. Valuable electrolytes pass right through without getting pulled into your bloodstream.
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium. Your body needs electrolytes for all muscle activity, including your heart and skeletal muscle. If your body doesn't get enough, it can cause stiffening, spasms, and weakening of your muscles.
Individuals with untreated celiac disease may find that any form of exercise will cause more muscle and joint pain than someone without the disease. Their muscles may feel extremely sore for days after an activity, despite conditioning.
Bones and Joints
Growing up, you may have heard your mom or auntie or grandma tell you, "Drink your milk! Your bones need that calcium!" And while bone growth and maintenance require more than calcium, they had the right idea.
Your bones and joints need a lot of different nutrients to stay strong and healthy. When celiac disease keeps you from absorbing those nutrients from the food you eat, your whole body suffers. And your neck bones and joints are no exception.
Other Neck Pain Causes
Neck pain can be a fairly common symptom in adults. As a person grows older, they are more likely to suffer from chronic neck or back pain due to the general weakening of muscles and joints so typical of the aging process. Lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute to problems like neck pain.
Many individuals lead sedentary lifestyles, particularly those who spend a great deal of time craning their necks in front of a computer screen. Such habits can lead to a permanent stiffening and straining of certain key neck and upper back muscles. The stiffening of these muscles can often be an influential factor in chronic migraines.
Not all neck pain is muscle related. Several lymph glands sit in the neck as well as the ever-important thyroid gland. Your thyroid has a lot of jobs. It helps regulate your metabolism, assists in your body's growth, and helps regulate your temperature. If it gets swollen or inflamed, it can also cause neck pain. Neck pain that doesn't seem like a muscle strain should always be investigated by a healthcare provider right away.
Treatment for Neck Pain
As with most celiac symptoms, you may be able to relieve muscle-related neck pain with dietary changes, staying away from gluten, and focusing on fresh raw fruit and vegetable juices that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. You may want to avoid commercial electrolyte beverages as they are loaded with sugars and chemicals which can damage your electrolyte balance even further.
Deep tissue massage, proper exercise, and acupuncture may also help to relieve chronic muscle stiffness and strains. As neck pain in celiac disease is not widely studied, other treatment options are not proven. Some healthcare providers recommend injections for the pain called a nerve block.
Most providers suggest that you start by eliminating all gluten from your diet before you try anything else. Most importantly, communicate with your provider so they can get to know you and your symptoms. Then you can work together on your treatment plan.