Aches, Pains, and Menopause: How To Handle Menopausal Musculoskeletal Pain
There’s no way around it: for some women, going through menopause can be a huge pain. There are changing hormones to contend with which can bring on symptoms that range from brain fog to mood swings - and for some women, going through menopause means an onslaught of literal aches and pains.
How Menopause Causes Body Aches
You might attribute your newfound achiness as an inevitable part of the aging process. After all, as we get older, our muscle and bone mass naturally starts to decline, putting us at more risk of debilitating pain, stiffness, and soreness.
But it’s an even more pertinent issue for women going through menopause, and those hormone fluctuations are once again to blame. Estrogen, the primary reproductive hormone for females, starts to decline during perimenopause, which can have a wide range of effects on all of your body parts including your muscles and joints. It’s a raw deal: one study even drew the conclusion that women who are experiencing menopause may be at higher risk of developing chronic pain than other subgroups.
When it comes to menopausal pain, we’re referring to musculoskeletal pain - literally translated to muscle and skeletal pain. So during menopause, your muscles can be affected, as well as your bones, joints, ligaments - the entire system that supports your body.
There are a couple of reasons that the transition to menopause can affect these systems:
- Falling estrogen can interfere with your magnesium uptake, a mineral that helps your muscles function and relax
- A decline in estrogen can also mean more inflammation, which could be part of the reason behind aching, inflexible joints as you grow older.
- Fibromyalgia, a condition that comes with widespread pain in your muscles and joints, is much more common in women than men, and many women report that fibromyalgia either begins or worsens after menopause.
For women who do develop musculoskeletal aches and pains during perimenopause - remember, not all women will go through all the symptoms, so you may not experience any of that - there is also evidence showing that there’s an upward trend as you age. In other words, the severity of pain may increase as you move from perimenopause to post-menopause.
The Connection Between Bone Health and Menopause
Arthritis and joint pain is often chalked up as an inevitable part of aging - but it may actually be menopause, not the natural aging process, that causes problems. Your bone health is intricately linked to your estrogen levels, which makes you that much more likely to develop issues with your bone health as you reach menopause.
Your bones naturally go through cycles of breaking down and building back up, and this cycle is highly dependent on estrogen. When it comes to menopause, your estrogen levels decrease, which can lead to overall bone loss and subsequently weakening bones.
This means that menopausal women are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, or a disease where their bone structure is significantly weaker and more prone to injury. It also means that osteoarthritis may be more prevalent in menopausal women. It’s a grim statistic, too: according to The National Osteoporosis Foundation, about one in two menopausal women will break a bone.
How To Deal With Menopausal Pain
First and foremost, consult with a doctor if your aches and pains are interfering with your daily life. They can run tests to determine whether your pain is being caused by menopause or a different issue, which can help narrow down how to treat pain.
Some tests your doctor might run include:
- Bone density tests to check for osteoporosis
- Hormone tests to determine what stage of menopause you are in
- Imaging tests like X-rays or ultrasounds if a specific area is causing you pain
If menopause is diagnosed, then it is time to consider whether you want to approach this period of your life using medical treatments like hormone replacement therapy or not. The evidence for HRT shows that it can be one of the best options for maintaining bone density. Estrogen receptors are found throughout our muscles and ligaments, and we know that replacing it during and after menopause is associated with less pain and arthritis. But, it’s not the right choice for all women, and some women prefer to avoid it if they are nervous about the increased risk of breast cancer than some forms bring.
Besides medical treatment, there are also at-home remedies and lifestyle changes that you can implement to find balance and reduce menopausal musculoskeletal pain, including:
It might sound like a tall order if you’re already feeling achy, but regular exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen your muscles, support your bones, maintain a healthy weight, and ultimately break the cycle of pain.
If this is your first time working out (or the first time in a long time), start off very gently. Go for a moderate walk or do low-level resistance exercises so you can gauge your fitness level. It may also be a good idea to work with a personal trainer so they can determine the right kinds of exercise for your unique needs.
Stretch, stretch, stretch!
It’s an area of physical activity that’s often overlooked, but making sure to stretch every day can do a world of wonder for improving tight joints and painful muscles. Take a couple of minutes every hour to stretch it out, especially if you’re sitting down a lot, to prevent pain.
Watch your vitamins and minerals.
It’s more important now than ever to eat the right diet and give your muscles and bones the nutrients they need. Make sure that you are getting enough calcium and Vitamin D in your diet to support strong bones. You might also consider taking a magnesium supplement to reduce the pain response.
Other supplements can aid with hormone balance and get to the root of the issue, including phytoestrogen-rich herbs.
Applying a cold pack to your achy muscles and joints is a tried-and-true way to manage pain because it reduces inflammation and provides some numbing relief.
Some women are able to find relief from their achy muscles and joints with over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin.
If your pain is extreme and normal painkillers can’t bring relief, it may be time to visit with your doctor.
Menopausal aches and pains are a surefire way to decrease your quality of life, but you don’t have to accept them as inevitable. Talk with your doctor and explore lifestyle changes and natural methods of pain relief so that you can minimize your pain and enjoy living life regardless of menopause.