We are (sometimes, unfortunately) well aware of most of the infamous 34 symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, loss of libido, and irregular periods. Some of us may even celebrate the arrival of these symptoms because it means we are saying goodbye to periods. But if you find that you are developing joint pain, you may be questioning whether you are really ready for this transition. While we usually think about joint pain afflicting the elderly, it in fact starts right in the perimenopausal period for over 50% of women.
Can Menopause Cause Joint Pain and Swelling?
Hmmm we get that question a lot!
There is no coincidence that joint pain and menopause start around the same time in a woman’s life. However, the link between joint pain and menopause is perplexing even to medical researchers. In the perimenopausal period, there is a significant drop in estrogen, which is one of the predominant female sex hormones. Estrogen is known to protect bone health by preventing bone breakdown and also helps with absorbing dietary calcium. When estrogen levels decline, bones are more likely to become brittle. Similarly, estrogen has also been linked to preventing inflammation. Therefore, the decrease in estrogen levels associated with perimenopause has demonstrated a greater likelihood of an increase in joint swelling.
Studies indicate that more than half of all perimenopausal women complain of joint pain. In fact, the most common ages for initial joint pain complaints are between ages 45 and 55. Some of the largest medical studies pertaining to women’s health have focused on the relationship of joint pain in menopause.
The Women’s Health Initiative was one of the largest studies to examine joint pain from menopause. One of the many research findings of this study was that hormone therapy (taking synthetic estrogen and progestin) in menopausal and post-menopausal women lowered the risk for fracture and joint pain. However, hormone therapy after menopause leads to a greater incidence of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and urinary incontinence.
So, although increasing estrogen levels in the body may help with bone and joint health, it is certainly not the answer to managing joint paint in menopause at this time.
Characteristics of Menopausal Joint Pain
Joint pain from menopause is usually worse in the morning and improves throughout the day. Women are usually stiff in the morning because of the disuse of the joints overnight. Usually, the pain feels like stiffness, tenderness, grating, or shooting/burning pain, and is usually accompanied by swelling. Many women also have these symptoms after exercise or even completing normal daily tasks such as in their occupation and home upkeep. The most commonly affected joints in menopause include the neck and jaw, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Many women complain of hip and knee pain as well. Furthermore, old injuries may become painful again as there is an increase in inflammation in perimenopause.
When women discuss their joint pain symptoms with their doctor, they may be diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA). The greatest risk factors for OA include age and being female. Other risk factors for OA include obesity, past joint injuries, repeated stress on joints, and genetics. Unfortunately, OA is a degenerative disease, meaning that it tends to worsen over time especially if we are not proactive in protecting our joints. Because the pain can be chronic and debilitating, it can also lead to secondary issues including insomnia and depression.
The greatest risk factors for OA include age and being female.
Joint Pain Menopause Treatment Options That You Can Try Today
- Exercise – Regular physical exercise is the key to living well with joint pain. Although it may seem counterintuitive, moving your joints regularly in low impact activities will decrease your pain and inflammation. Weight-bearing exercise will also strengthen your bones and joints. Aerobics, swimming, yoga, biking, hiking, and walking are just a few recommended activities for managing joint pain.
- Weight management – Carrying around extra weight will undoubtedly stress your body and increase your joint pain. Losing a few pounds (or more) can greatly increase your mobility. Try some of the low impact activities mentioned above to lose excess weight and improve joint pain.
- Anti-inflammatory foods and supplements – A healthy diet is essential when managing bone and joint health. A diet high in protein will continue to build muscle and repair damaged cells. Increasing calcium and vitamin D intake are usually recommended by medical providers during perimenopause, as well as to ward off osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Other supplements that may be recommended include magnesium, glucosamine, and chondroitin. Furthermore, certain foods have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties such as blueberries, turmeric, garlic, and leafy greens.
- Hydration – Some women tend to lose their thirst sensitivity in perimenopause. Furthermore, women have a harder time retaining water during this phase. Therefore, it is imperative to drink plenty of water to keep your tissues hydrated.
- Reduce Stress – Sometimes it seems we have become a population that applauds high-stress levels. But stress is not something to encourage. In fact, cortisol, the stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, is linked to some of the most common physical and mental health issues that plague our society. These diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, depression, and diabetes. And yes, it also plays a role in joint pain. While it is easier said than done, identify stress triggers in your life and experiment with different ways to control your stress response. Your health depends on it.
So ehmmm … does Joint Pain From Menopause Go Away?
While most of the side effects of menopause improve or even disappear in the post-menopausal period, joint pain may not improve. Women have a higher risk for osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis compared to men. However, with healthy lifestyle choices that protect your joints, you can live a very full, active life after perimenopause.
Estrogen appears to play a critical role in the development of joint pain, but researchers agree that is not the only factor that contributes to joint pain in women. Therefore, it is important to note that joint pain can be a sign of many health conditions including lupus, Lyme disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you find that your joint pain is concerning, do not hesitate to talk to your medical provider as joint pain may be caused by something other than a decrease in estrogen.
Disclaimer: this is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.