Feeling stiff or achy when you get up in the morning or after sitting for an extended period of time? Do you have sore knees? Tight hips? Achy fingers? Back pain? Joint pain is one of those symptoms that can make you feel old overnight, and unfortunately it strikes more than half of women during menopause. In fact, a study of more than 100,000 middle-aged female veterans found that going through menopause raised their risk of experiencing chronic pain by 85 percent. But you don’t have to suffer and feel older than you are. There are a variety of ways to get relief from menopausal joint pain.
Though the precise cause-and-effect of menopause and joint pain hasn’t yet been established, there’s evidence that there is one. Pain, swelling, and inflammation in the joints is often a signal of osteoarthritis (OA), the wearing down of protective tissue between bones. Since OA disproportionately affects women in menopause, it is likely that hormone changes may contribute to arthritis symptoms. Beyond hormones, carrying excess weight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, dehydration, poor diet, smoking and stress can all trigger or worsen joint pain.
Because estrogen is a natural anti-inflammatory, one possibility is that when it dips and ebbs, inflammation can occur more easily. Plus, estrogen regulates fluid levels throughout the body, so just as your skin is drier and less elastic, the tissue of your joints may be, too. Another theory is that estrogen reduces pain perception so when levels decline, you’re more sensitive to pain.
Unlike many signs of menopause, joint pain may not diminish when hormones level out after menopause. But there are many lifestyle changes that can help ease the pain and prevent it from getting worse.
Fill up on anti-inflammatory foods. Some foods tamp down inflammation while others spur it on. For the right balance, eat more of these inflammation fighters: berries, broccoli, avocado, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, citrus fruits, cherries, fatty fish like salmon, olive oil, nuts, dark chocolate (in moderation), olive oil, green tea, turmeric, and ginger. And avoid foods that contribute to inflammation such as refined carbs like white bread and cake, fried foods, red meat and processed meats like hot dogs, soda and other sugary beverages, and foods with trans fatty acids like margarine.
Get some exercise. Regular movement keeps joints lubricated so they flex and extend more easily and with less pain. Low-impact activities like yoga, walking, swimming, and cycling are gentler on the joints than high-impact sports like running.
Keep tabs on your weight Excess weight puts stress on your joints as you move, so losing even a few pounds (weight loss is tough during the menopause transition) can mean exponential relief for weight bearing joints like hips and knees.
Lift some weights. Strengthening the supporting muscles around a joint provide stability. When joints are stable, they function better, and you have less risk of damage or an injury.
Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to keep tissues moist and supple. In menopause, your body doesn’t retain water as well as it used to, so it’s important to replace the lost moisture. Water—not sports drinks, sodas, or coffee—is your best choice. If you need variety, add a few pieces of fruit for flavor.
Build in stretch breaks. Too much sitting? Too much computer time? At regular intervals, for instance every 20 or 30 minutes, stop what you’re doing and move. On a computer, stretch your forearms, do some wrist circles, or squeeze a soft ball. Get up from your desk and march in place and then stretch your legs and hips. The motion will help to keep your joint lubricated and minimize stiffness and pain.
Strengthen your core. Your body is one long chain of joints and muscles, and weakness at one part affects others. When the core muscles in your abdomen, back, hips, and buttocks are strong, it can help to take pressure off your knees and ankles.
Destress. We know, we probably sound like a broken record, but when it comes to joint pain, stress is especially problematic. Stress raises cortisol levels, and cortisol can cause additional inflammation in joints. Do what you can to keep stress in check. If stressed, consider taking a walk — in nature is best for a triple crown of stress- and joint-pain relief: nature, time away, and moderate exercise.
Consider supplements. Magnesium may help. According to the Arthritis Foundation, "Magnesium strengthens bones; maintains nerve and muscle function; regulates heart rhythm and blood sugar levels; and helps maintain joint cartilage." Other good options are glucosamine and chondroitin.
Apply ice and/or heat. Which you choose may be a personal preference. Generally, ice helps when there’s obvious inflammation (swelling, redness). It may also ease achiness after exercise, or you might simply find that it numbs your pain anytime. Heat loosens muscles, enhances flexibility, and increases circulation. For these reasons, heat (heating pad, warm shower, paraffin wax) may be helpful when used before exercise. Apply either for no more than 20 minutes at a time, and protect your skin by having something like a thin towel between your body and the ice pack or heating pad.
Rub on relief. Topical pain relievers like Arnicare and Biofreeze can tame the pain. In addition, simply touching and massaging the area, even with regular lotion, may help desensitize you to the pain.
If you’re not getting relief, the pain worsens, or you have other symptoms such as swelling, redness, rashes, fever, fatigue, dry eyes and mouth, or painful urination, you should see your doctor. There are other causes of joint pain that can be more serious than a drop in estrogen, such as Lupus, Lyme disease, gout, septic arthritis, gonococcal arthritis, thyroid problems, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA and Lupus are autoimmune disorders that affect women more than men; they differ from OA, which is more closely related to aging and wear).
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.
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