May 01, 2022
All women have likely heard that menopause, the permanent cessation of menses caused by a drop in hormones, is a completely natural part of aging. But just because something is natural does not mean that it comes without its challenges.
For most women, menopause comes with a variety of unpleasant symptoms, such as hot flashes, irritability, vaginal dryness, reduction in bone density, thinning skin and hair, and an increased sensitivity to pain. If all of this wasn’t enough, many women who are going through menopause also experience joint pain as well.
Joint pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms from menopausal women, so it’s natural to put the blame for this on declining hormone levels, especially the decline in estrogen. But clear research for a decline in hormones being the cause is lacking.
So what else could be going on to account for this? These hormonal changes can make women more susceptible to becoming dehydrated and this can negatively affect joints. We’ve already noted that women who are going through menopause have a heightened sensitivity to pain, so when you combine these two factors, that may provide a clue.
Also, estrogen acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent, so without it, your joints are apt to act up more. But whatever the underlying reason it’s clear that menopausal women experience more joint pain, especially in their shoulders, knees, hands, hips and spine, than younger, pre-menopausal women.
So what’s to be done?
First of all, if you are doing high intensity, high impact exercise such as running, HITT (high intensity interval training), jumping rope or playing tennis, switching to low impact exercise can take some of the strain off your joints and may help relieve pain. Examples of low impact exercises are swimming, yoga, tai chi, qigong, and stationary biking. Be sure to take a few minutes to warm up prior to your exercise routine by doing some gentle stretches which will get blood flowing to your muscles and put you at less risk of an injury.
Take a look at your diet as well. Reducing or completely eliminating refined carbs such as added sugar, and highly processed foods can help to reduce inflammation. Adding anti-inflammatory spices to your diet such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper and cinnamon can also help to cool down inflammation. Of course, eating a diet rich in whole vegetables and fruits, with good fats such as those found in avocados, olive oil and cold-water fatty fish such as salmon can also help to reduce inflammation.
Be sure you are drinking enough water to stay well hydrated. One rule of thumb is to drink enough water so your urine is pale yellow to clear, but not so much that you have to run to the bathroom every five minutes!
Another factor that a lot of women don’t think about is the role of stress in joint pain. You have probably heard that when you are under a lot of stress, your body produces the stress hormone cortisol. This constant flood of cortisol, if it becomes chronic, can have inflammatory effects on your body and cause your joints to become painful. If this is you, then you need to do something, ideally every day to manage it. This does not have to be a long session of meditation every morning but can be something as simple as walking your dog (or a neighbor’s!), journaling, reading a good book or listening to favorite music.
Finally, menopause is known to disrupt sleep, and poor sleep is associated with markers of inflammation in blood tests. Make getting enough quality sleep a priority by dimming the lights in the evening, reducing, or eliminating your exposure to blue light from electronic screens in the evening and trying to get outside for a few minutes first thing in the morning after you get up to get some natural sun on your face. This sun exposure in the mornings will set your master circadian clock for the day and help you sleep better at night.