We know about mood swings, hot flushes, night sweats and dizzy spells, but joint pain…? Can menopause really be blamed for those aching shoulders and knees?
Connection Between Joint Pain and Menopause
The fact that increased levels of pain very often present themselves at the same time as menopause is not as well understood as some of the more overt menopausal side effects such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, dizziness and headache. Although the precise link between joint pain and menopause is still being researched, it is obvious that chronic pain and swollen joints in such large numbers of women during menopause is no coincidence and the following factors all contribute to inflammation which is at the root of the problem:
Oestrogen is known to protect us from inflammation, and therefore diminishing levels of oestrogen may well be one of the reasons for joint pain and stiffness during menopause. Falling oestrogen levels affect the body’s ability to regulate fluid within the cells and can lead to dehydration. This means that the body can’t retain enough water to lubricate joint tissue. This also impacts upon cartilage, ligaments and tendons. A high percentage of cartilage is made up of water and it is cartilage which cushions the bones within a joint. Water is also present in the synovial fluid, a gel which surrounds cartilage and prevents friction when we move our limbs, so this is certainly a reason for increased inflammatory pain.
Hot flushes and night sweats
Both cause much perspiration with resultant dehydration so kidneys can struggle to expel uric acid. This leads to the formation of crystals which accumulate around the joints and cause inflammation. It’s a good idea to remember to keep drinking plenty of water to flush through your kidneys and to generally keep you hydrated to help avoid stiff, aching joints.
Joint pain is often a problem around menopause due to stress levels. This is possibly the last thing you would associate with inflammatory pain, but it is a direct contributor. Many strange feelings, both physical and mental, are taking place during menopause so it’s hardly surprising that stress pays its part in the overall feeling of discomfort. Stress causes your body to make an excess of the hormone cortisol and this can cause inflammation if it hangs around for long periods of time.
Putting on weight during menopause is a very common problem. Decreasing oestrogen levels play havoc with the body’s ability to metabolise carbohydrates and the resultant stored fat goes on stealthily. It’s particularly cruel because it happens without any dietary change. It’s also very challenging, when joints are sore and you are feeling tired and stressed, to feel much like exercising, but a reduction in activity during the menopause can easily add to weight gain. Even losing a few pounds will help your joints and make moving around less of a trial. Another tip to help minimise joint pain is to improve your posture so that you don’t put too much pressure on joints by slouching.
Joint Pain – Risk Factors
- Osteoarthritis – A condition which can flare for the first time or be made worse by menopause. The word arthritis means inflammation and osteo denotes a wear and tear type of inflammation, but it is believed that the presence of oestrogen keeps the pain of osteoarthritis at bay. It is often with decreasing levels of this hormone that the condition is able to take hold.
- Osteoporosis – This is when bones lose density and become brittle. This can sometimes present during menopause but is more usual during the years beyond.
- Fibromyalgia – A chronic pain condition which can present during menopause when increased sensitivity to pain may be a trigger.
- Genetics – Certain aspects of menopause, including side effects such as joint pain, are often down to genetics. Even the age at which menopause takes place can be handed down through the female line of a family. Related conditions such as osteoarthritis is much more likely to occur in women whose mothers have also been sufferer
- Old injuries – If you’ve broken bones or had dislocated joints in the past, you may find that the sites of those injuries, even from as long ago as childhood, begin to give pain during menopause.
- Excess weight – Carrying extra weight puts more strain on joints so even shedding a few pounds helps with relieving pain on hips and knees.
- Sedentary lifestyle – If sitting for long periods of time is part of your lifestyle, gradually joints will start to seize and muscles waste so even the effort of climbing the stairs or moving around the house will give pain.
- Dehydration – Because of diminishing oestrogen levels, it’s even more important to keep hydrated during menopause.
- Smoking – Smoking makes inflammation much worse because after the initial hit of dopamine which nicotine gives, it then impacts on the supply of oxygen in the bloodstream, which means that bones and connective tissue are also starved of oxygen, causing an increase in joint pain and worsening the effects of fibromyalgia, osteoporosis and arthritis.
- Diet – Poor dietary habits will impact on inflammation within the body, but also certain foods act as triggers for joint pain. The main ones are citrus fruits, tomatoes, and other plant food within the nightshade genus, sugar, salt and caffeine.
Tips for Managing Menopausal Joint Pain
There are things you can do to help yourself cope with chronic pain during menopause and one of the main medically recognised ways of keeping joints mobile is by being active. ‘Be sure to do plenty of exercise.’ It’s one of the most recited mantras heard by women all over the world, but how easy is it to exercise when your knees, hips, spine and shoulders are aching?
Instead of thinking in terms of exercise, think more about the importance of movement. This is the key to minimising pain in the long term:
- Gentle stretches, using all the muscle groups.
- Short walks – they don’t need to be five-mile hikes.
- Improve your posture to avoid unnecessary pressure on joints.
- Low impact movements such as cycling, swimming and aqua aerobics will help you feel better mentally as well as physically.
It’s one of those times in life when keeping weight at a healthy level may prove more difficult than in the past. The best way is to change a few lifetime habits so that you don’t end up yoyo dieting, which has been found to be more dangerous than just keeping at a steady weight (even if this happens to be slightly higher you would like). Fad diets, or seriously restrictive diets, are very rarely sustainable; weight soon piles back on and such fluctuations put a big strain on the heart and other major organs.
Try to replace some regular foods which are high in carbohydrate, fat and sugar with lower fat, higher fibre and less refined alternatives. For instance, you could replace white potatoes and chips with sweet potatoes which are delicious when mashed or sliced and baked in the oven with just a drizzle of olive oil. Switch white rice and pasta for brown rice and quinoa. Exchange some red meat meals with white meat and fish and try to enjoy a couple of meals a week which are purely plant based.
Drink More Water
This is a very easy but highly effective way of keeping the body, including joints, hydrated and supple. Menopause causes our bodies to lose water and this needs to be regularly replaced. Drinking plenty of water also helps with weight loss.
Use Ice Packs
These can help ease the burning pain of inflammation. Put the ice pack onto the affected area to reduce swelling, but always place a tea towel or soft cloth between the ice pack and your skin to avoid damaging the skin.
The Effect of Mental Stress on Joint Pain
Being in an almost constant state of anxiety and stress increases the way you handle physical pain. It’s a surprising realisation that relaxation is something most of us have to learn. Perhaps because we’ve allowed ourselves to be swept along on a tide of time-sensitive activity for many years, our instinct to know when to just let go has pretty much disappeared. Some of the best ways of learning to relax, apart from closely observing the habits of the family cat, are as follows:
- You may find that the onset of menopause with its various side effects, in combination with your usual juggling act of job, home, teenagers, elderly parents etc, is just the last straw (and who would be surprised?) The time may have come when you might organise a bit of support for you. Imagine your life as a business where you are CEO and your husband, children, friends and relatives are your colleagues. Allow them some responsibility in taking tasks over to free you up to restore that vital work/life balance. Also, remember that it’s perfectly fine to say ‘no’ to requests for help from outside sources.
- Yoga is amazing. Not only because it teaches you to clear your mind of all superfluous thought, but also it strengthens your limbs, muscles and joints and keeps you supple.
- Massage can help when you’re feeling full of aches and pains, but you need to choose a relaxation massage rather than the physio/sports kind which can leave you feeling pummelled and bruised. Make sure you point out areas of pain to your therapist.
- Try one of the meditation apps. There are quite a few available and most offer a free trial so you can choose the one you prefer. It may only take about ten minutes out of your day, but just learning the technique of mindfulness can be a lifesaver when you are approaching meltdown zone.
- A few sessions with a good reflexologist can help greatly and apart from the pain relief, reflexology can work wonders in unlocking emotional barriers.
- Your Own Time
- Award yourself at least an hour each day, more if you can, when you are strict about just doing whatever makes you feel good. It might be curling up with a book, watching a film, soaking in the bath, or strolling in a garden. It helps you to balance your busy life with your inner calm, and often, just stepping away from your own personal rat race can help you get things into a calmer perspective.
Emphasis on Sleep
Give it priority in your life. Sleep is what heals you and gives quality to your waking hours. Sleep is totally vital in helping keep pain at bay. Have you noticed that when you’ve had a wakeful night, the next day you feel every ache and pain known to man?
- Skip the late-night caffeine kick and try to limit alcohol just before bedtime.
- A routine helps, so begin to wind down about an hour before you turn in and make your bedtime roughly the same each night.
- Set the heating so that your bedroom is cool but not cold and ensure your curtains keep out the glare of streetlights or early sunlight in the summer.
- Switch off notifications on tablet, phones etc, and set them to night mode so they dim (or if you can bear it, leave them in a different room)
- Avoid the late-night news. It doesn’t make for peaceful, untroubled sleep.
- Certain herbal teas or tisanes make good bedtime drinks. There are blends for soothing you to sleep which may contain extracts of chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm.
- Treat yourself to an aromatherapy sleep spray to mist your pillows with calming fragrance or a sleep pulse point oil. Essential oils can provide a wonderful way to drift off into sleep surrounded by the gentle scent of meadow flowers and herbs.
- Many women report that pain in their legs during menopause disturbs their sleep. If this is a problem, you could try massaging magnesium cream or oil onto legs and also the soles of your feet. This may help with pain relief and also promote better sleep.
What you eat can have a significant effect on inflammation and therefore on the pain levels you experience. Some foods are known to be anti-inflammatory and carry the accolade of being ‘super-foods’. Among the top players in this category are blueberries, fresh ginger and turmeric. Whizzed in a blender with some chilled natural yogurt, these give a boost of anti-inflammatory support in the form of a breakfast smoothie.
Other excellent food choices are oily fish such as salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, particularly spring greens, spinach and kale. Nuts (fresh, unsalted) and a little chocolate, particularly dark chocolate – go on, force yourself.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can give temporary relief by reducing inflammation and thereby easing pain, but all pharmaceutical medications carry side effects. It may help to discuss with your GP the best route to take when choosing pain relief rather than embarking on prolonged use of NSAIDs.
Your GP may offer you hormone replacement therapy (HRT), particularly if you also have other problems associated with menopause, but it’s important that you are made aware of the possible risks involved before making your decision.
Help from Supplements
Clinical studies have found that certain natural substances have a proven anti-inflammatory effect:
- Curcumin – The active ingredient of the turmeric root, is a natural supplement which has received a great deal of attention from medical science over recent years. Curcumin has been found, in numerous clinical trials, to be highly anti-inflammatory and to support treatment for joint pain in conditions such as osteoarthritis and other inflammatory illnesses. A good quality curcumin extract taken as a dietary supplement, has been found effective in helping reduce the pain associated with inflamed joints.
- Glucosamine – A naturally occurring substance found within the cartilage of joints. It acts as a cushion to keep bones from rubbing together. With increasing age and diminishing oestrogen levels, glucosamine levels also take a dive, leaving joints vulnerable to inflammation. Studies have shown that taking glucosamine as a supplement is beneficial in helping with pain relief.
- Omega 3 – An essential fatty acid which our body cannot manufacture but which is valuable in several ways to our health and wellbeing. We therefore need to take Omega 3 as a supplement and trials have shown it to be effective for reducing inflammatory joint pain. Much of the Omega 3 available to the supplement market is harvested from fish oils which carry a risk of heavy-metal contamination such as mercury. We have sourced an omega 3 supplement which is derived from algae from a controlled environment, free from contaminants.
- Aloe vera – has been found in clinical studies to be effective in alleviating osteoarthritis pain by soothing and reducing inflammation both internally when taken as a juice, or externally when aloe vera gel is applied to hot and swollen joints.
It would seem that there is a very good case for regarding joint pain at the time of menopause as one of the side effects of hormonal change. To give yourself the best chance of a natural (and fully vegan) solution to joint pain, we have created a supplement bundle incorporating all three of our top-rated anti-inflammatory products.
Fluctuating hormones are at the root of so many issues associated with menopause and we have devised two blends of high-performance herbal extracts and compounds to ease you through this challenging time. The Day Capsules and the Night Capsules have been the subject of rigorous clinical trials and have proven to have very positive supporting qualities to help you at this challenging time in your womanhood.
The team at Supplement Place will be pleased to offer information and advice on natural supplements for menopause-related issues. Call us on 01297 553932 (Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm) or email: [email protected]