A person is annoyed by joint stiffness and pain

Stiff, Achy, and Sore: Crohn’s Joint Pain

Last updated: January 2023

We all know that, as you get older, your body is going to let you know you are getting older. Stiff achy joints are part of growing old, but as a Crohn's sufferer, I did not think it would happen to me so early in life. I never put 2 and 2 together until years after my diagnosis.

From athletic to arthritic

Growing up and into my teen years, I was very athletic and played soccer, and was a competitive figure skater. Falling on the ice repetitively over and over again was part of learning your jumps and spins and my knees took the brunt of it. I used to wear a knee brace for support. My knees, especially my right one, were always sore and cracked when I walked. But thinking that my Crohn's was making it worse later on never dawned on me.

After diagnosis, I soon became aware – as many IBD patients do – that with everything my body was going through with pain, bleeding, surgeries, weight loss, etc. had my early-20s body feeling more like I was in my 80s. My aches and pains started in my knees so I never thought it was related to my Crohn's. But when I started to get more aches and pains later on in my other joints – my ankles, hips, back, wrists, and fingers – I began to realize that it had to be my Crohn's in some way. But why?

Was it because of my drastic weight loss? I was an athletic 170 lbs (77 kg) before I started getting symptoms. At my worse, I was a mere 115 lbs (52 kg) not long after symptoms began.

Was it Crohn's causing my joint pain?

I would see my doctor and GI often early on in my Crohn's "career" and it was my wonderful GI that connected everything for me. She would always ask me at every appointment how I was doing and if there was anything different or ongoing that I haven't mentioned before. She specifically asked if I was having any muscle or joint pain and after telling her all my aches and pains, the lightbulb went on in my head and realized that I had been suffering for years not knowing it was my Crohn's.

She explained that I will always have joint pain because IBD is an inflammatory disease and much joint-related pain can be arthritic in nature. It was weird hearing that I could have arthritis-like symptoms so early in life. I had been taking prednisone for a number of years already and my GI said that normally that would help with the pain from inflammation but not the cracking and lethargy related to aches and pains. For me, the prednisone helped but I would still feel it.

Treating Crohn's joint pain

My GI basically said Tylenol would help but not Advil, as Advil can cause kidney problems. (I was already having kidney problems.) Advil is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) and NSAIDs can trigger a flare. I have been on biologics and they are supposed to be very effective, but I still experience joint pain and problems – but maybe not as often.

I could only imagine the pain I would be in if I wasn't on anti-inflammatories. The worst pain I ever felt related in my joints was actually my back. So bad that I could not move, and let me tell you, that is a scary thing to experience. I was getting up in bed and felt a pain and then could not move. It was like my back "locked" into position.

Back pain is the worst

I was in bed for a few days trying to rest it with a heating pad alternating with a cold compress as well as stretching while lying there. I discovered the best way to stretch your back is to lay on your back, arms out and while leaving your arms still, take one leg and cross it over the other as far as you can, then alternate (rolling your hips). I now do this all the time but I still have back pain to this day.

Today, now in my mid-50s, I am resigned to the fact that I will always have joint pain made worse by my Crohn's. I take warm Epsom salt baths to help all my joints when they are really bad. But if I need to target a specific area, I use either topical Voltaren or Traumeel cream and/or regular Tylenol. Generally, though, I have just learned to live with it.

Joint pain and arthritis in people with IBD

Joint pain occurs in about half of IBD patients and 30% will experience arthritis at some point, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Talk with your doctor or GI if you're experiencing joint pain. You may need to undergo some tests to help determine the cause of your joint pain including arthritis.

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