Surviving joint pain during menopause

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Most women experience some symptoms during menopause although the severity and duration of these symptoms vary enormously. The usual symptoms of menopause include night sweats, low mood, hot flushes, period changes and fatigue, but joint pain is also a very common complaint.

Menopause usually affects women between the ages of 45 and 55 and therefore joint pain is often put down to the normal ageing process. However, because of the dramatic hormonal changes going on in a woman’s body at this time, these fluctuations can have a significant effect on joint pain.

Stiffness and swelling around the joints are common symptoms of menopausal joint pain. The most common joints affected by pain are the hips and knees but elbows, neck, shoulders and fingers can also be affected. Menopause can also make existing chronic pain much worse.

Many factors contribute to joint pain during menopause and these include:

Hormonal changes – falling oestrogen levels is thought to be the main causes of joint pain in menopause. As oestrogen is responsible for regulating fluid levels in the body, when the hormone levels fall, the body is less able to hold water, affecting hydration and lubrication of the joint tissues. 80% of cartilage is water, so it is a very important component of this flexible and protective tissue, acting as a cushion between the bones, absorbing shock and easing friction. Without this protective and supportive mechanism aches and pains can easily develop.

Dehydration – excessive sweating during menopause and not drinking enough water can all contribute to dehydration. If you find you suffer with night sweats then your joint pain may be more common first thing in the morning. Dehydration can also make it difficult for kidneys to get rid of excess uric acid, which can cause a build-up of tiny, sharp crystals in and around joints, making them inflamed and sore. This is commonly known as gout which is a form of arthritis that affects the tips of the joints such as toes and fingers.

Stress – the body will release high quantities of the hormone cortisol if you are experiencing a lot of stress. This hormone works as an inflammatory so high levels of stress during the menopause will only make your joint pain worse. Stress can also cause tension which in turn causes joints to work harder leading to further inflammation and discomfort. It is important to take time out of your day to relax and find ways to de-stress.

Weight gain – weight gain is a very common problem during menopause and adding just a few extra pounds can put extra pressure on weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. Stress and a lack of activity throughout the menopause can also cause weight gain. Losing just a small amount of weight can help take the pressure off your joints, improving mobility and relieving pain.

Diet – there are many foods which can trigger joint pain. Sweets, cakes, high-salt and processed food, as well as caffeine and fizzy drinks can all cause inflammation and aggravate pain. Eating a well balanced diet to include a variety of foods will also help to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Caffeine and alcohol can also make hot flushes worse so reducing your intake will help with this.

Poor posture – when someone is in pain they often hold themselves differently as repositioning the body often takes the pressure off the painful area but it’s likely to add extra pressure on other joints. Slouching should be avoided as it limits your range of motion and makes it much harder for your muscles to take the load off your joints. In time, it can cause misalignment of the spine which eventually leads to even more joint stress and pain.

Increased sensitivity to pain – sleep deprivation, which is a very common problem in menopause, can make pain feel worse. Low magnesium levels are also very common throughout menopause due to stress and digestive weakness and this can impact pain perception, as well as causing sleep issues. Magnesium levels can also fall during menopause and as this is needed to keep muscles relaxed, low levels cause muscles to tense up and become stiff. This in turn can impact the muscles that control movement of the joints. 

How to treat menopausal joint pain;

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Strengthen the muscles and joints by doing low-impact weight bearing exercise such as swimming, walking, yoga, cycling
  • Practice relaxation techniques 
  • Use heat pads or ice pads
  • Eat foods that ease joint pain such as nuts, seeds, pulses, oily fish, blueberries, olive oils, dark chocolate
  • Increase your Vitamin D intake – expose your skin to the sunlight as often as you can

Many women find their hormonal levels tend to even out during menopause and they find stiffness sometimes eases off, however, this will depend enormously on general health, stress levels, diet and exercise levels.

If you think you might want to take nutritional supplements, getting advice from your dietitian, GP or pharmacist, especially if you are taking regular medications is important. 

Understanding your symptoms and learning how to control them can make a big difference during this difficult time. This in turn will enable better mobility and flexibility and generally enhance a woman’s quality of life.