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Joint Pain in Women

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

More than a third of my clients are women over the age of 45 and one of the more common reasons for visiting me is because they are experiencing muscle & joint pain, often with associated reduced mobility & flexibility.

Menopause & Joint health

In this blog we take a look at how diminishing levels of female hormones are likely to play an important role in the onset of these musculoskeletal aches & pains and how symptoms might be eased.


Why Do I Ache??

There are many reasons for onset of joint & muscle pain, but for women who are considered perimenopausal* or menopausal**, this could be due to fluctuating & diminishing hormone levels.


Musculoskeletal pain (MSP) is one of the more common symptoms in women going through menopause, with perimenopause being the stage at which women are particularly predisposed to developing MSP. One study suggests a whopping 71% of perimenopausal women experience some form of discomfort. Degrees of pain were reported to range from moderate to severe.


The Influence of Hormones on Joint Health

During this transitional time, there are significant changes in female hormone levels, with oestrogen levels erratically fluctuating before falling significantly and progesterone levels reducing significantly overall.

female hormones & the menopause

Oestrogen is likely to be the main culprit for the onset of MSP. This hormone regulates fluid in the body, influences inflammation levels & maintains bone and soft tissue health.


Fluctuating levels of oestrogen may therefore give rise to underlying low-grade joint inflammation and can affect the hydration & lubrication of the joint tissues, causing aches, pains and stiffness to develop.


Cartilage, which is a joint tissue that sits between the bones and helps the joint to glide & move, is comprised of more than 80% water. It's perhaps inevitable therefore that a dip in hydration, caused by lowering levels of oestrogen, will make the joints feel a bit creaky.


Water is also needed for the flexibility and elasticity of the ligaments and tendons which connect our bones and muscles. When reduced oestrogen levels affect the hydration of these connective tissues, range and ease of movement can also be reduced.


Progesterone is the hormone that boosts feelings of natural calmness, improves our mood and increases pain threshold levels. A reduction in this hormone can sensitise our perception of pain and cause us to feel more stressed.


Managing Joint Health during the Menopause

As hydration levels are influenced by oestrogen, it is important to stay well hydrated. If you experience joint pain and stiffness more in the morning, then dehydration during the night could be a contributory factor, especially if you have night sweats. Dehydration can also cause a build-up of tiny crystals in and around joints, making them inflamed and sore.


Loss of bone density, muscle mass & strength is associated with ageing in both men & women, but the decline in oestrogen contributes to this loss more rapidly in women. Prioritising weight/resistance training is advised for balancing or negating this reduction in bone density and coupled with a diet high in protein will help to maintain and build muscle, which is needed to provide stability and support to the joints.


There's not a lot of good evidence showing that dietary supplements can relieve menopause symptoms but studies have shown that omega 3 can support hormone production, have a positive effect on inflammation & be beneficial in improving bone density. Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones & muscles and is made by the body when exposed to sunshine. In the UK, ultraviolet light is only strong enough to make vitamin D during April to September & the only way to ensure a healthy vitamin D status away from this time of year is to take a supplement.


Maintaining a healthy body weight will prevent joints being placed under additional pressure. The average weight gain during menopause is 6lb and for every extra pound of excess weight, this will place about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees.


Stress can have a negative effect on joint health. Stress causes the body to release high quantities of the hormone cortisol and as this hormone works as an inflammatory agent when present long-term, high levels of stress during the menopause combined with lower levels of progesterone will make your joint pain worse. Stress also causes muscle tension and means joints work much harder, leading to further inflammation and discomfort. Manage stress by making time to chill, find an activity that you enjoy or why not get a regular relaxing massage...?


Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Whilst this is not a silver bullet, replacing oestrogen with HRT has been shown to benefit some women experiencing perimenopause and menopause symptoms. Discuss your symptoms with your GP to find out what treatments are available and what might be right for you.


Lastly, but certainly by no means least, soft tissue therapy is a 'whole person concept' that offers a range of benefits for women who are experiencing joint pain associated with the menopause. Massage therapy can help to manage symptoms by easing muscle tension, improving range of movement & flexibility, reducing stress & anxiety and promoting good sleep. The right therapist can also provide exercises aimed at strengthening muscles & joints and offer advice on lifestyle.

Definitions

*Perimenopause is defined as the time period when menstrual periods become irregular. This can continue for many years, often 5 or 6 years, before periods actually stop for a full year. It is during the perimenopausal phase that some women will begin experience symptoms associated with the menopause.


**Menopause means the end of menstrual periods. It's usually defined as 12 months after a woman’s last period; and the average age for this to occur is 51.


Caveat

It's important to point out that I am not medically trained, a Dietician, Nutritionist or expert in women's health. But I am a woman and I am peri-menopausal....! This blog has been written because personal experience; my role as a soft tissue therapist & my interest in women's health have led me to listen to many podcasts & read lots articles associated with joint pain, menopause, women's health & hormones, a few of which are listed under Further Listening & Reading.


Everyone’s experience with perimenopause & menopause will be unique and if you need personal or medical advice, this should be sought from the appropriate type of practitioner.


Further Listening & Reading


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