Menopause happens when you stop having menstrual periods permanently, and you can no longer get pregnant. Decreased hormone levels in the body can result in various symptoms. Aches and pains in the joints are common symptoms during the menopause, with an increase in arthritis often happening at this time. All joints of the body can be affected.
The hormone oestrogen plays an important part in keeping our joints healthy and lubricated. Low levels of oestrogen caused by the menopause can result in symptoms such as aching joints and joint stiffness.
Joint pain in the menopause can be treated in a number of ways, from natural treatments and lifestyle changes to hormone replacement therapy.
What causes aching in joints during the menopause?
Oestrogen helps to keep our cartilages (the connective tissue in joints) healthy. Oestrogen also plays a role in replacing bone naturally in our body. This means oestrogen helps to prevent joint inflammation and joint pain.
When levels of oestrogen naturally fall during the menopause, this joint protection can sometimes weaken, causing joint aches and joint stiffness. This problem of joint pain and joint swelling most often affects the small joints of the hands and feet. However, other joints such as the knees, elbows and neck joints can also be affected, causing joint stiffness and reduced movement.
It’s common to get general aches from normal wear and tear to your joints as you get older. Therefore, joint pain isn’t necessarily always due to the menopause, even though it may occur at this time.
Osteoarthritis is a progressive joint disease, characterised by joint inflammation, joint pain and joint stiffness. This problem is more common in women than in men.
Menopause is associated with the onset and progression of arthritis in some women. Hormone replacement therapy has been proved to help reduce the symptoms and progression of osteoarthritis during the menopause.
Can menopause cause lower back pain?
Lower back pain is extremely common. Most cases are caused by poor body posture, muscle spasm in the lower back muscles or lifting heavy objects in an incorrect way. Being overweight can also make the lower back pain more likely to occur. Some studies have shown that people who have significant symptoms of the menopause are vulnerable to getting chronic lower back pain. Treatments such as hormon replacement therapy, massage, physiotherapy and exercises to improve body posture may alleviate lower back pain that develops during the menopause.
When do you need to see a doctor because of menopause joint pain?
You need to call an ambulance or go to your nearest emergency department if you have significant joint pain and:
- your joint becomes red, hot, and very painful
- you have had an injury and think you might have broken a bone
- you have a high or low temperature and feel very unwell or dizzy, have a fast heart rate or fast breathing
- you’re feeling confused, drowsy or have trouble speaking
- you haven’t peed all day
You should go to see a doctor as soon as you can if you have:
- severe sweats at night with weight loss or swollen glands
- swollen joints
- loss of appetite
- early morning stiffness in your joints
- night pain
- new onset severe headaches
- significant tiredness
- a history of inflammatory bowel disease
You should make an appointment to see a doctor if you have generalised joint pains during the menopause but do not have other worrying symptoms. Also speak with your doctor if your symptoms are not getting better with self-care measures or if the symptoms keep coming back.
What’s the treatment for joint pain in menopause?
There are several things you can do to reduce joint pain during the menopause, ranging from lifestyle changes to medical treatments.
Lifestyle changes include:
- losing weight. If you’re overweight or obese, controlling your weight can reduce musculoskeletal pain. It’s a good idea to start exercising gently and gradually build up the intensity.
- reducing your stress levels. Stress can sometimes make joint pain feel worse. Pain and stiffness in the joints can also feel worse if you feel anxious or depressed. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to change the way you think about joint pain and help you to break out of the cycle of pain, low mood, stress and anxiety.
- getting enough quality sleep. Pain often feels worse when you’re tired or if you suffer from insomnia. A good night’s sleep is therefore important.
- improving your body strength and posture to help reduce muscle pain and joint pain and improve flexibility and suppleness. Pilates and yoga are both good ways of doing this.
Simple painkillers may ease joint pain and joint stiffness, as might anti-inflammatory gel rubs or tablets. However, you should speak with your pharmacist or doctor first to ensure these medicines are safe for you to use.
Hormone replacement therapy in the form of oestrogen treatment has been proved to cause a sustained reduction in joint pain following the menopause. Various types of hormone replacement therapy are available – it’s best to speak with your doctor about which options are best suited to you.
Dietary supplements for treating menopause joint pain
Some scientific evidence show that plant-based oestrogen (phytoestrogen) helps reduce menopause symptoms, including joint pain. Phytoestrogen is found in soy products. However, the safety, quality and purity of plant-based oestrogen products are not always known. It’s best to speak with your doctor before using these products, and you should not use them if you have had certain medical problems, such as breast cancer. Other natural supplements which some people are using include wild yam, evening primrose oil and vitamin E.
What’s the outlook for joint pain in the menopause?
Although pain related to menopause is quite common, most aches can be reduced or cured with treatment. The pain will not have a long-term impact on the quality of your everyday life. You need to speak with your doctor if you find joint pain is affecting your daily life.