IBS and Whole-Body Pain

Or – Why do I hurt everywhere when my IBS acts up?

By Dr. Don Davis
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)  sufferers have enough problems with stool frequency, bloating and abdominal pain without having to deal with pain anywhere else.  But that’s just what recent research is beginning to show us.


We already know that there is increased “overall” pain in other syndromes like fibromyalgia and in many other degenerative diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  But pain in areas outside of the gut with IBS is a little hard to relate to.  The reality is, it’s there, and its common.


The research has been building for a while, in fact in 2003, studies showed that body-pain outside the GI tract with IBS was actually greater than Inflammatory bowel disease and Crone’s disease.  They showed also that the IBS patient had higher levels of constipation, stomach reflux disease, joint pain, nerve pain, chronic fatigue and sleep disruption than with Crone’s. But it was the gut visceral – hypersensitivity in IBS that started it all.


I hope you are thinking, “Why would this be?”.  Well it appears that the hyper-sensitivity in the gut that we experience as IBS begins to spread throughout the nervous system increasing pain everywhere and leading to chronic pain with increasing disability.  This pain modifies the way our central nervous system works, so that you get more pain with less provocation. This extra sensitivity not only makes pain worse but even ordinary touch and pressure are painful.   This is another reason to get the gut fixed up as soon as you can.


Descending Pain modulation.

One particular way body-pain can increase is by changing the brain’s ability to inhibit pain.  This is called Descending Pain Modulation.


There are areas in the brain like the periaqueductal gray and the rostral medulla that are constantly active, and their function is to inhibit pain.  When these are altered by inflammation, beginning in the gut, pain levels increase.  Studies have even shown that certain bacteria can change our emotional connection to pain turning it from an irritation to a suffering type pain.


Fibromyalgia is the perfect example of what happens when the brain ineffectively controls pain.  The person will have muscle pain, fatigue a multiple tender areas.  But interestingly enough they will also have sleep issues, headaches, depression and brain fog.  I noticed that the vast majority of my patients with fibromyalgia also had digestive problems  When I started to run tests on them, I discovered that many of them had IBS, gut infections, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and leaky gut. This is supported by research that found that 73% of patients with fibromyalgia reported GI symptoms, compared with 37% of those with osteoarthritis.


If you suspect that your gut and nervous system aren’t linked up correctly and you aren’t getting useful, sensible pain signals, then be extra cautious about therapies that are painfully intense and skeptical of mechanical or psychological explanations like, “you have a short leg” or “you are depressed”. These explanations are only partial details of a much bigger picture, a picture that may include intestinal inflammation.

“One of the principle qualities of pain is that it demands an explanation.”

Getting to the cause of the pain is imperative, whether it’s from inflammation in the gut or from other sources like certain drugs, infections or emotional trauma.


The easiest place to start is to have your doctor test your gut to see if you have any infections, dysbiosis or inflammation that would be causing your discomfort.  Unfortunately, a colonoscopy won’t tell you this.  You’ve got to do one or several of the gut tests that can sense inflammation, infection, bacterial balance, gut wall integrity and bacterial overgrowth to get a clear picture of your intestinal health.


I’d like to hear your story.  Do you have unexplained pain and IBS.  Have you notice any improvement after taking steps to heal your gut?  Please share your experience in the comments section.


Health is on the Way….




Leave A Comment


First Name
Email address