By Julia Walker, RN, BSN 7-Minute Read
Julia Walker, RN, BSN is a women's health nurse, writer, and member of the perry team. Perry connects and supports perimenopause warriors in a safe space to build friendships, learn, and laugh. The moment you think, “WTF, could this be menopause?”—join our sisterhood!
You've heard of the hot flashes and irregular periods that accompany menopause. But did you know that changing estrogen levels can also contribute to joint pain? While you may associate this symptom with women in postmenopause and beyond, it can begin in perimenopause, which usually starts in your mid-40s (sometimes even earlier). Studies show that over 50% of women in perimenopause experience some degree of joint pain. In fact, most women first mention joint pain to their health care providers between ages 45–55. Here, we dive into why menopause can cause joint pain and what you can do about it.
The Link Between Estrogen and Your Joints
You have estrogen receptors all over your body—including in your bones, muscles, and connective ligaments. Since estrogen is considered protective of tissues and organ systems, including your bones, when estrogen levels decrease in menopause and beyond, women are prone to problems with their bones. That’s why you hear about an increase in conditions such as osteoporosis and bone fractures among women in this stage of life.
Aside from changes in your bone strength, estrogen may also reduce inflammation. Thus, when estrogen levels decrease, it can cause inflammatory processes to increase in your body. And one of the most noticeable and frustrating sites of inflammation happens to be in your joints.
Common Sites of Joint Inflammation and Pain Include:
Characteristics of Menopause Joint Pain
Distinguishing between joint pain from menopause and other causes can be challenging. But there are a few clues you can look out for. First, pay attention to timing. Women with menopausal joint pain are more likely to experience the most intense joint pain in the morning, with it letting up as the day goes on. This pain usually feels like stiffness, burning, or tenderness. Sometimes, there's also swelling of the associated joint.
Women with menopausal joint pain are more likely to experience the most intense pain in the morning.
Aside from morning joint pain, you may also experience pain after exercise or with other activities in your day, such as sitting at a desk, standing for long periods, or doing housework.
Finally, if you have old injuries, you may notice you have more pain in those sites. Again, this is because estrogen levels are no longer protecting from inflammation—and if an area has not fully healed, it may be more prone to further inflammation.
6 Ways to Improve Joint Pain in Menopause
The first thing you can do is get plenty of exercise, including both cardio and strength training. Aerobic exercises are highly beneficial for keeping the joints moving. Think: walking, swimming, and cycling—they're are all great for your joints.
Next, we know women need plenty of weight-bearing exercises to strengthen muscles...and having stronger muscles helps protect your joints. If you do have joint pain or old injuries, be mindful of the exercises you do. It can help to connect with a physical therapist or exercise specialist before getting too aggressive with weights in this case.
Preventing your muscles from getting too tight is essential. When your muscles tighten around sore joints, it can exacerbate the problem. Stretching morning and night can help reduce discomfort. In addition, yoga is excellent for stretching and strengthening muscles (not to mention reducing stress!).
3. Control Your Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for keeping your joints comfortable. Interestingly, being overweight increases your risk for osteoporosis. Furthermore, the less stress you apply to your joints, the better they'll feel. Smart steps to take include curbing mental and emotional stress, getting plenty of exercise, and eating a healthy, wholesome diet.
4. Drink Plenty of Water
In a culture where we love special beverages, it's easy to forget plain old water. But did you know hydration is vital for your tissues—and that your desire to drink water starts to dissipate the older you get? That said, you may have to remind yourself to drink to stay well-hydrated throughout the day. Pro tip: Try to consume most of your water before dinnertime so you don't over-hydrate before bed and have to get up throughout the night to empty your bladder.
5. Add Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Supplements
Certain foods hold anti-inflammatory properties that may help support our joints. Some of the most widely-accepted anti-inflammatory foods include berries, fatty fish, green tea, and green, leafy vegetables.
It could be smart to consider a formula with curcumin derived from turmeric.
Of course, supplements can also be useful, although it helps to consult your doctor before adding anything new to your regime. It could be smart to consider a formula with curcumin derived from turmeric, as studies show that curcumin supplementation can reduce the biomarkers of inflammation. For that reason, Womaness included it in Active Glow to help support healthy joints and inflammatory response.
6. Get Plenty of Vitamin D and Calcium
Keeping your bones strong through your diet is something you will need to do for the rest of your life. Aging and being female are the most significant risk factors for osteoporosis, so most women need to take a vitamin D and calcium supplement once they hit menopause.
You can also increase your intake of calcium and vitamin D through diet. However, if you have intestinal absorption issues, you may not get as much through food. Similarly, synthesizing vitamin D through our skin from sunlight becomes less effective as we are age, so while sunlight can help, it is best to also take a supplement.
A Final Note on Joint Pain
While it’s unlikely for joint pain to ever fully go away once you start to experience it, there are ways to minimize its impact on your life and prevent it from worsening. If you are struggling with joint pain as a symptom of menopause or perimenopause, be sure to connect with your doctor so you have the best plan in place for managing your specific needs.