Since starting our blog we have had a number of comments from women suffering with joint pain during menopause, which was news to me as it’s not one of the symptoms I personally suffer with. As we’ve mentioned before every woman has there own set of symptoms and joint pain is definitely one of them.
In our bid to support women through this turbulent period of our lives, I thought it would be a good idea to pull together some expert information and advice on the subject of joint pain during menopause, in the hope it will help any of you who are suffering.
Why Do Some Women Get Joint Pain
As with most things to do with the menopause (there seriously needs to be more research done on the subject), it remains medically unclear about how exactly hormones, particularly, oestrogen, affects joints, however, most medics are of the opinion that it is the reduced level of estrogen which plays a major role in joint pain during menopause.
The female hormone, oestrogen affects joints by keeping inflammation down, therefore, as estrogen levels begin to decline during perimenopause, joints get less and less estrogen and pain is often the result.
Menopause joint pain can also be experienced in many other joints in the body such as the neck, shoulder, jaw and elbows. Some women find that their wrists and fingers become painful. For some women the joint stiffness can be worse first thing in the morning, with swelling around the joints occurring at the end of the day
Some women may experience shooting pains down the arms, legs and back as well as heat within the surrounding area, creating a burning sensation particularly following exercise.
If menopause joint pain becomes chronic this can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. Compensating for aching joints with other parts of your body may also cause injuries and due to a lack of activity/mobility weight gain, obesity and heart disease can all become health concerns. Menopause weight gain, particularly in the “mid section” area causes a greater strain on the joints.
Joint pain is defined as pain/ache, stiffness or swelling in or around a joint.
Menopause joint pain is usually associated with osteoporosis and arthritis.
Osteoporosis – thinning of the bone due to the inability of the body to produce bone tissue.
Arthritis – simply means “inflammation”. Arthritis is used to describe over 100 different types of joint diseases. Among these diseases are osteoarthritis, commonly referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself.
How Can You Alleviate Joint Pain During Menopause
First and foremost, visit your healthcare professional – to find out exactly what type of joint pain you are experiencing.
– Stay fit and active – there are a number of exercises designed to help keep joints flexible and strong (i.e. tai chi, yoga).
– Complementary therapy such as Osteopathy may help to relieve pain.
– Maintain a healthy weight – reduces the risk of developing joint pain and can decrease pressure on weight bearing joints – hips and knees.
– Protect your joints – avoid repetitive strain.
– Alleviate stress -the hormone “cortisol” released in response to stress, works as an inflammatory agent. Sustained stress (the kind that most of us experience) can cause inflammation to spread at a rapid rate. Lifestyle changes like stress relief and exercise can help to regulate cortisol levels and reduce inflammation. See our articles on Meditation and Kundalini Yoga both great for relieving stress.
– Take a high quality multivitamin.
– Take a high quality Omega 3 supplement.
– Vitamin D as part of a balanced diet will help to strengthen bones and keep osteoporosis at bay.
– Natural menopause products may help to readdress your hormone levels.
– Calcium as part of a balanced diet will help to keep bones strong and help to prevent osteoporosis.
– Hyaluronic acid supplementation may help to support joint lubrication.
If lifestyle changes and alternate medicines don’t work there are over the counter pain relief meds such as Ibuprofen. Additionally, there are prescription drugs and in some cases surgery which can be explored together with your healthcare professional. We would always recommend trying the alternative medicines and diet first and speaking to your healthcare professional.
When Should You Consult Your Healthcare Professional?
You should always consult your healthcare professional if:-
Fever accompanies joint pain.
If continuous weight loss accompanies joint pain.
If joint pain lasts for longer than 3 days, moves from one joint to another or becomes worse.
Remedies for Menopausal Joint Pain
Getting plenty of rest, using herbal aids as needed to ensure deep restorative sleep, eating nutritious foods–predominantly fresh, preferably organic, fruits and vegetables–and avoiding known toxins and stimulants are healthy strategies that will help minimize muscle and joint pain in your menopausal years. Give your body a fighting chance!
What you should know about anti-inflammatory drugs & supplements
NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may be regarded as helpful in the short term. This standard drug therapy suppresses pain and inflammation but has been found to promote progression of the arthritic disease process by inhibiting GAG (glycosaminoglycan) synthesis and cartilage repair, and accelerating cartilage destruction. In addition, drugs may stimulate osteoporosis and suppress the immune system.
Glucosamine Sulfate (GLS): It has been found that this supplement may offer effective treatment by serving as a building block for GAGs (glycosaminoglycans), promoting the incorporation of sulfur into cartilage. Numerous studies have found GLS produces better results than standard drug therapy in the treatment of arthritis and pain in weight-bearing joints.
It appears the sulfur in GLS may be critical to the beneficial effects noted. Sulfur is an essential nutrient for joint tissue where it functions in the stabilization of the connective tissue matrix of cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
The standard dose for glucosamine sulfate is 500 mg three times per day. Obese individuals may need higher dosages based on their body weight (20 mg/kg body weight/day).
Anti-inflammatory herbs: There are herbs rich in salicylates and/or sterols that may be used just as effectively as their drug counterparts aspirin and cortisone for pain relief and as anti-inflammatories. Unlike aspirin and cortisone, the herbs don’t produce side effects when used carefully. Also unlike drugs, herbs provide bone-building minerals, immune-strengthening micronutrients, and endocrine-nourishing glycosides.
Salicylates found in the bark, buds and leaves of willows, birches, true wintergreen, poplars, and black haw have been used for centuries to help ease inflammatory pain.
Sterols are fatty substances composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Vitamin D contains sterol and it can be found in the roots of many plants such as wild yam, sarsaparilla, ginseng (Panax), black cohosh have been found to help ease sore joints.31
Peruvian Bark contains alkaloids including quinine and has been found very useful in prevention of leg cramps, especially at night. Leg cramps in postmenopausal women are often reported by practitioners. The main causes have been found to be the use of tobacco and inactivity of the legs. Attention to calcium/magnesium intake is important, and often a pharmaceutical form of quinine is prescribed and found to be helpful. Using the herb Peruvian Bark is much safer than quinine and is more effective, although using very large doses over an extended period of time is not recommended.
Alginates from brown seaweed or kelp are used to treat painful joints resulting from strontium, barium, cadmium and radium poisoning. Alginates bind tightly to these toxins allowing them to pass harmlessly out of the body, for example, cows are often fed alginate that binds with strontium 90 which is then excreted. Alginate is a good treatment for “ouch-ouch” disease (yes, that’s its real name) which is found in Japan, its major symptom? Painful joints.
Black currant bud macerate is an anti-inflammatory found to be a wonderful ally for postmenopausal women with arthritis, rheumatism, allergies, headaches, and persistent hot flashes. A 30-50 drop dose may be used up to three times a day.
Essential oils: A warm footbath with a few drops of the essential oil of peppermint or rosemary right before bed may help.
Garden sage leaf infusion or tincture is said to prevent joint aches and improve circulation. Note: Do not use excessively or if you have dry mouth or very dry vaginal tissues.
Magnesium – Known for its calming and relaxing effect on the body, magnesium is vital for muscle function. It may therefore be an effective remedy for muscle aches and pains during the menopause. Magnesium is also great for helping with sleep!
EFAs: Essential fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. A spoonful of fresh flax seed or evening primrose oil several times a day may relieve pain within a few days, and regular use helps prevent aching joints.
Ginger baths, soaks, and compresses may bring soothing, warm relief to sore and aching joints.
Where Can You Find Supplements
We work closely with Healthspan, who offer a huge range of high quality health supplements, including menopause specific products, glucosamine, magnesium and omega oils. Click on the image below to visit their site and find the supplements which best suit you:-
What About Your Diet
A diet too high in refined carbohydrates (i.e. white things) and sugars, and too low in omega-3 essential fatty acids for example, can cause inflammation in the body. Low oestrogen levels, very common for women in menopause, and which usually correspond with low serotonin levels (an important neurotransmitter which regulates mood and pain receptors), can also contribute to generalized aches and pains.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a diet that is too high in refined carbohydrates (white bread, rice, flour) and sugars and too low in essential fatty acids. A high carb diet promotes prolonged levels of insulin, which disturbs cellular metabolism and spreads inflammation. You will have heard this many times in other blogs we’ve written – it would appear carbohydrates and sugar are simply a NO-NO for us menopausal women! See our article on how to Battle Menopause with Food. Some basic changes which could help:-
Eat more fruit and vegetables – which contain natural anti-inflammatories.
Often the elimination of certain foods such as the following will help greatly:
- the so-called ‘nightshade’ foods (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers)
- citrus, with the exception of lemon and grapefruit
- dairy products, with the exception of plain yogurt with active culture
- meat including beef, pork, and lamb (other sources of protein such as chicken, fish and beans are less likely to promote inflammation)
- vegetable oils (continue using olive oil and the essential fatty acids flax seed, sesame, pumpkin, borage, sunflower oils)
- MSG (monosodium gluconate)
I had no idea that long-term stress can contribute to chronic inflammation, this is due to high cortisol levels, a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Women going through perimenopause often suffer with adrenal fatigue, and consequently, also have very high levels of cortisol in their bodies.
If chronic pain is being caused by depression this book has some excellent points and tips on dealing with chronic pain without the use of drugs. Interestingly it has very good reviews in America but doesn’t appear to be very well known in the UK so don’t be put off by the one review on Amazon UK, take a look on Amazon.com for more reviews, The Mind-Body Mood Solution: The Breakthrough Drug Free Program for Lasting Relief from Depression, by Dr. Jeffrey Rossman, PhD.
As chronic pain and depression are closely linked, and because depression among women in menopause is common as well, this book could be helpful. It has excellent information on light exposure, exercise, and food choices to treat depression, which in turn can help treat chronic pain.
You may also find this anti-inflammatory food pyramid designed by Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. helpful, it’s reasonable and measured as opposed to an extreme diet, which tend not to work for any length of time. Balance and moderation are key to good health.
You can read here about the anti-inflammatory diet, why it works, and why we should all strive to eat this way. If you’re suffering with any type of pain and you’re not interested in taking drugs, this could be the right solution for you.
Dr Andrew Weil M.D. highly recommends four key foods and explains why below:-
Berries: I can’t be more specific here, because I love the tastes of all kinds of berries, and all have anti-inflammatory effects – in fact, they are among the most healthful foods one can eat. One exciting research development: a study at Ohio State University found that black raspberries reduce the incidence of certain cancers in animals by 50 percent. An exotic choice, new on the U.S. market, is the juice (not the oil) of sea buckthorn berries. Known by its Italian name, olivello juice, this is one of the most concentrated natural sources of vitamin C ever discovered.
Black cod: Also known as butterfish or sablefish, black cod has even more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. As one of its names suggests, it also has a buttery taste that makes it simply the finest fish I have ever eaten. Once rare, it is becoming much easier to find; any well-stocked fish market should have it.
Bok choy: Cruciferous vegetables have potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects, and bok choy has a higher concentration of beta-carotene and vitamin A than any other variety of cabbage. Toss it into soups, stews and stir-frys.
Ginger: Not just a potent anti-inflammatory, this spicy root is also an extraordinary carminative (which means a substance that helps reduce the formation of intestinal gas) and anti-nausea agent. Add freshly grated ginger root to stir-frys, and try ginger lemonade made with grated ginger, lemon juice, honey and water.
I’ve taken cod liver oil or omega 3 supplements for many years, mainly because my Dad always took cod liver oil, and I have rarely suffered with joint pain – which makes me think it does work! Even if you don’t already have aches and pains it’s probably worth taking a supplement or changing your diet now as a preventative measure!
Hopefully those of you who are suffering will find something above to help ease your symptoms – let us know if you do try any of them and if you noticed a difference, we’d love to hear from you!
Menopause Health Matters