Many women report new or increased joint pain during both perimenopause and postmenopause. Menopausal joint pain and muscle aches are two of the many recognized symptoms of the menopause experience.
There are many causes of joint pain including inflammation, general wear and tear, and good old aging. Hormonal changes are also believed to contribute to new or worsening joint pain. Though the exact impact that fluctuating hormone levels have on joint health is still unknown, studies show that menopause related joint pain is real.
More Research Needed
As with most menopause symptoms, the reasons menopause related joint pain occurs is not fully understood. There are several theories related to the fact that their are estrogen receptors throughout the entire body. When your estrogen levels fluctuate as you approach menopause, many symptoms can be triggered, including joint pain.
Estrogen acts to reduce inflammation in the body. When estrogen levels fluctuate this can trigger inflammation. Estrogen levels also impact fluid levels in the body. This can potentially impact your joint tissue, causing joint stiffness and joint pains.
There is also a theory that estrogen reduces your perception of pain, so as levels drop you may become more sensitive to joint pain.
Joint Pain Relief – Lifestyle
Joint pain may or may not subside once you have achieved menopause and your hormones have stabilized. Regardless of where you are at in your menopause transition, there are things you can try to ease joint pain.
Although you’re in pain, it’s important to keep moving. Consistent movement helps keep joint pain at bay by increasing lubrication in the joint. Walking, biking, swimming, and water activities are all great low-impact ways to ease joint pain. This type of exercise is also shown to improve mood and sleep.
Weight Bearing Exercises
One of the primary benefits of lifting weights is a reduction in joint pain. Strengthening the muscles around a joint increases your stability. Stability improves joint function. It also reduces your risks of falls and injury.
Focusing on building your core muscles is particularly beneficial at preventing injuries. Good core strength also takes pressure off of your knees, ankles, and hips.
Loss of muscle mass or tone in also a symptom of perimenopause and postmenopause. So if lifting weights isn’t currently part of your exercise routine, you may want to try adding in some light reps. Start with 3 lbs weights and do 3 sets of 12 squats at your desk. Quick and easy. You may get a few stares, but if you’re like me you are well past caring if anyone is staring.
Carrying excess weight can lead to painful joints. And as you’ve likely experienced, weight gain is a common symptom in perimenopause and beyond. Sigh. Take heart, even shedding a few pounds can make a difference when it comes to easing joint pain.
Movement and weight bearing exercises will help with weight management. As will your dietary choices. Try to make small changes, and set realistic, incremental goals. An all or nothing approach rarely works.
In addition to making small changes to your diet, like cutting out dessert, try adding in some anti-inflammatory foods. According to Harvard Health, eating the following whole, unprocessed foods with no added sugar will help you fight inflammation:
- fruits – especially berries, citrus fruit, and cherries
- Vegetables – green and leafy like spinach, kale and collard greens
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil
And there are a few studies that suggest modest benefits from spices like cinnamon, turmeric and ginger.
Foods to avoid include:
- Refined carbs, like white bread and pastries
- Fried foods
- Sugary drinks
- Red meat, especially processed or cured meat
If you are looking for an eating plan to build out your dietary changes, consider the Mediterranean diet. It features foods that are anti-inflammatory, and is considered ‘the diet’ for heart and brain health as well as diabetes prevention.
Stress and Sleep
We know. If only we could easily reduce our stress and get a good night’s sleep! Grrrr. But we think it’s important you know the following:
Chronic stress can cause anxiety and depression. Both of which can make joint pain feel worse. Chronic stress also leads to consistently raised cortisol levels. And when you have consistently high levels of cortisol, your body can get used to having too much cortisol in your blood. This can lead to inflammation.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, studies show that sleep deprivation is associated with markers of inflammation like elevated C-reactive protein in people who weren’t sleeping well. Regardless, when you’re under-slept everything just feels worse, joint pain included.
Stress Reduction and Better Sleeping
What can reduce stress and promote sleep? Exercise. We know, We know. Very annoying. And also true. You don’t need to be running marathons or hitting the gym for an hour every day. Even a short walk outside can help reduce stress and improve your sleep. Again, start building small changes into your daily routine. This will allow you to build healthy habits that not only stick, but also promote the adoption of additional habits that will support a long health span.
What and when you eat also has an impact on your stress levels and sleep cycles.
Avoiding alcohol, which can make you edgy and interfere with sleep is a great start to de-stressing and improving sleep. Caffeine is also something to consider cutting out as it can make you feel jittery and nervous and can’t interfere with sleep. Food sensitivities can cause irritability and anxiety in some people. And, impact your sleep. Keeping a journal may help you uncover triggers that are sabotaging your well-being.
According to the sleep foundation, eating too much close to bedtime can affect sleep quality. Research shows that eating high-calorie meals less than an hour before bedtime can extend the time it takes to fall asleep. Eating before bed can also make a person wake up in the middle of the night.
The key is to start with small changes. Become mindful about not eating for at least an hour before you go to bed. Add some exercise to your daily routine. Even a short walk will help. Not possible? Set a time to stand at your desk and do some stretching and deliberate breathing for 5 minutes. Every little bit helps!
Joint Pain Relief – Medications
There are several supplements that support joint function. Speak to a qualified professional who can guide you to the best options for your set of symptoms.
The reigning supplement for joint health is magnesium.
Studies show magnesium can help relieve joint pain and improve muscle function. It also helps with anxiety and depression. Magnesium also supports better sleep. There are an overwhelming number formulations and different types of magnesium.
Consult a qualified health professional to assist you with finding the right product for your needs.
Anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen can help reduce joint inflammation and reduce pain. As with any medication, be sure you understand the risks particularly if you intend to use the medication long term. Booking a consult with your pharmacist is a great way to better understand the risks and benefits of any medication or supplement, particularly in the context of your medical history.
Topical pain relievers are also a good option. Again, a review of the options in the context of your current medications and medical history with your pharmacist is always recommended.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
Not recommended specifically for joint pain, but as outlined in the North American Menopause Society’s 2022 position statement on hormone therapy, women in the WHI and other studies had less joint pain or stiffness with hormone therapy compared with placebo.
If your joints hurt as a result of menopause, you likely have other menopause symptoms that may be best treated by hormone replacement therapy. If this is the case, know that hormone therapy may also help with joint aches. As with any decisions to start medication, be sure to understand the risks and benefits.
A qualified healthcare provider can guide you so that you can make the best decision for your unique menopausal symptoms.
Joint Pain and Menopause
Menopause joint pain is a common menopause symptoms. You’ll notice that many of the lifestyle options to relieve joint pain are also very good for your overall health. These options will also help with other menopausal symptoms.
If you are suffering with joint pain or other symptoms in perimenopause or postmenopause, take a look at your sleep habits, your diet, your exercise routine, and your stress levels. What can you tweak? Do you need help from a professional like a dietitian, therapist, fitness trainer, or medical provider? Do you need medication?
You Do Not Need to Suffer
If you are experiencing joint pain and lifestyle changes like weight loss, exercise and diet aren’t doing enough for your menopausal joint pain, you may want to try medications. You may also need to start with medication to get you to a place where making lifestyle changes is even possible. Again, consult with your primary care physician or your pharmacist to review what medication options might be right for you.
It’s also important to consult your healthcare provider to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms.
You do not need to suffer. Chronic pain can a take a significant tole on your well-being. This is your time to thrive, not just survive. Ask for the support and the solutions you need and deserve. You’ve got this.