“Who wants to go on a hike when you can’t even lace up your boots?”

 

When that “snap, crackle, and pop” in the morning is no longer coming from your breakfast cereal, it might be time to consider your joints.

Aching fingers, tight hips, sore knees … joint pain is one of the most common symptoms of menopause. If you’re feeling a bit stiff and sore, especially in the mornings, there are things you can do to manage the inflammation and pain.

Since the aches can feel even more achy during chilly weather, we’re making joint pain our Symptom of the Month.

What’s the connection between joint pain and menopause?

Though the precise cause-and-effect of menopause and joint pain hasn’t yet been established, it’s pretty clear there is one. Pain, swelling, and inflammation in the joints is a signal of osteoarthritis (OA), and as OA disproportionately affects women in menopause, it’s likely hormone level changes is at least part of the cause.

One thought is that because estrogen is a natural anti-inflammatory, when it dips and ebbs, inflammation can take hold more easily. Plus, estrogen regulates fluid levels throughout the body, so just as your skin is drier and less elastic, the tissue of your joints may be also.

What are risk factors for OA and joint pain?

Being a woman in menopause is a risk factor, and unfortunately not one most of us can do anything about. But there are other contributors that may be within your control.

Carrying excess weight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, dehydration, poor diet, smoking, and stress can all trigger or worsen joint pain. Less controllable factors include heredity and a history of injury.

Six ways to manage, lessen, or avoid joint pain

First, change the things you can.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods

Include foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory, like blueberries. Healthline suggests adding turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, garlic and other herbs and spices that naturally help reduce inflammation. Chocolate, nuts, fatty fish and other foods rich in Omega 3s, and those glorious leafy greens can also help.

According to ChronicBodyPain.net, citrus fruits, caffeine, nightshades (like tomatoes), sugar, and salt can trigger joint pain, so limit your intake of these.

Exercise

When your joints ache, exercise rocket right to the bottom of your can’t-wait-to-do list, but don’t rule it out. Regular movement helps keep joints lubricated and strengthens muscles surrounding and supporting your joints.

Get Healthy Stay Healthy has some easy exercises to help relieve stiffness in joints. Low-impact activity like yoga, swimming, and cycling are gentler on the joints than high-impact sports like running. Regular exercise can also help you with another joint-pain risk factor…

Manage your weight

Excess pounds mean excess pounding on your joints as you move, so losing even a few pounds can increase mobility and relieve pain.

Hydrate

Drink plenty of water to keep tissues moist and supple. In menopause, our bodies lose water (or don’t retain it as well), so it’s important to replace the lost moisture as much as possible. And that means water. Not sports drinks, not sodas, not coffee – water.

Ice

When there’s inflammation, ice can help relieve the pain. Apply carefully so you don’t damage your skin – 20 minutes with an ice pack should help reduce swelling.

Stress less

We know, easier said than done, but when it comes to joint pain, stress is especially problematic. Stress raises cortisol levels, and cortisol can cause additional inflammation in joints. Do what you can to keep stress in check.

When to talk with a doc*

There are other causes of joint pain that can be more serious than a drop in estrogen, so if you’re concerned your pain may have another cause, please consult with a medical professional.

According to Prevention, other possible causes of joint pain include Lupus, Lyme disease, gout, septic arthritis, gonococcal arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA is an autoimmune disorder that affects women more than men; it’s different from OA, which is more closely related to aging and wear).

Unlike many signs of menopause, joint pain may not diminish when hormones level out after menopause, so it’s important to make good lifestyle choices now and stick with them.

If you’re dealing with joint pain, we’d love for you to share what you’re doing and how well it’s working! Leave a comment below, on our Facebook page, or in midlife & menopause solutions, our closed Facebook page.

Got other symptoms? Check out our SOTM blogs on heart palpitations, tingling fingers, and frozen shoulder.

*Information in this blog is for education only and is never intended to replace care from a health care professional. If you think your joint pain requires medical attention, you’d better be reading this in your doctor’s waiting room. Please seek help if you need it. 

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Shannon Perry

Shannon is a celebrated author and global educator. Whether she’s interviewing a physician or producing a podcast, her appetite for research, facts, and truth culminates in credible health education and programming that women can rely on. An avid runner, cyclist, and climber, Shannon knows a thing or two about thriving in midlife and lives in Seattle with her cat, dog and boyfriend.

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