Person with severe joint pain lies awake at night staring at the clock feeling like the tin man.

The Tin Man Effect: Joint Pain and UC

A pulsating throb awakens me at night. I attempt to stretch, to ease the lightning bolts of shooting pain, but my arms don’t seem to want to move easily. At age 51, my aches feel like I’m the "Wizard of Oz" Tin Man with rusted joints after crying or standing in the rain. Parts of my body don’t seem to want to move smoothly.

What’s going on? And why do my elbows feel like a vise has clamped down on them?

As if gut pain and diarrhea weren’t enough, I’m discovering another issue associated with ulcerative colitis: joint pain. With the weather turning colder where I live, the pain in my elbows and ankles reminds me that colitis affects more than just the gut.

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Inflammation from ulcerative colitis

It seems that arthritis, or inflammation of the joints, is a common IBD complication. This problem limits one’s mobility and potentially causes daily pain that, in turn, affects work, exercise, or life in general.

For me, I detect it most at night. The throbbing pain awakens me many times throughout each night. If I lie in certain positions too long, my elbows shoot pain up my arms. Often, it hurts to move and stretch my arms out fully. Sometimes, my fingers and elbows seem to be at war with one another – as in which area wants to cramp and hurt the most.

But this pain doesn’t just occur at night. During the day, I also experience the aches, screams, and complaints of my elbows, ankles, and fingers. I never even realized the connection between my IBD and joint pain until a friend of mine with Crohn’s happened to mention it one day.

In my head, I thought, "Really? As if a life of bloating, gut pain, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding aren’t enough with colitis?" So, my online investigation on the connection between joint pain and ulcerative colitis began.

Joint pain common among UC sufferers

As numerous articles relate, yes, joint pain is a common symptom of UC affecting the body outside of the stomach and intestines (extraintestinal manifestations). My throbbing elbows as I type this article also confirm what I read in various medical journals. It seems that the inflammation of the intestines opens the door to inflammation spreading to other areas of the body. Well, thank you, colitis! You have punched me again with yet another issue.

On a good note, treatment is available. Sometimes just taking pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin can help. But someone living with an IBD has to be careful with these over-the-counter treatments. Often, they irritate the stomach lining. Intestinal irritation is what we folks living with IBD are avoiding.

Instead, I now have a new issue to discuss with my gastroenterologist. Hopefully, he can assess whether my pain results from colitis or not. More importantly, I trust he offers treatment options that won’t exacerbate my intestinal issues.

Stretching and strengthening my joints

As it currently stands, this Tin Woman may need to focus more on yoga for stretching and strengthening exercises to relieve my joint pain. After reading about the connection, I know that regular exercise is essential to living with the slings and arrows of achy joints. Exercise makes a person stronger and more flexible.

In short, life with ulcerative colitis isn't for the faint of heart. Just like the Tin Man, we are the most tender of creatures. But if someone offers us a bit of oil, we can keep our joints and our guts moving smoothly along life’s yellow brick road.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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