By Rachel Lankester, founder of the Magnificent Midlife Movement
Why do we often get more aches and pains around menopause?
There are many reasons why we can get more aches and pains throughout perimenopause and after menopause. Sometimes it’s hormonal changes that cause this but it could be something completely different. But starting to experience more aches and pains can be an early sign of perimenopause.
It’s not known exactly why this is, but estrogen does have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, so as it drops, if we’re not finding other ways to reduce inflammation, this may be one reason why we start to experience aches, pains and stiffness.
Equally, it could be that we’re not staying hydrated enough, especially if hormonal changes are leading us to dehydrate, such as hot flashes and night sweats for example. Estrogen has a role to play in keeping us hydrated so we need to put more effort into that as it decreases.
If we put on weight, as often happens in midlife and around menopause, we may be putting extra strain on our joints which can cause pain. If we’re not eating the right diet, eating too many inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods, that can also lead to problems.
If you’re highly stressed and producing too much cortisol, that is also associated with inflammation and can contribute to distracting our adrenal glands from their important role of producing the estrogen that is needed for healthy joints (Jackie Lynch, The Happy Menopause).
We may experience the following:
- back pain
- unexplained stiffness
- aching muscles
- loss of flexibility
- chronic joint pain
- or just generally more aches and pains
If changes are major and there’s no obvious explanation, they could be a sign of an underlying condition, so be sure to visit your doctor and get yourself checked out. Osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and certain autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease or multiple sclerosis can all cause painful joints, so be sure to eliminate these as possibilities if pain is a big problem.
Sometimes we assume that aches and pains are a natural part of getting older but they don’t need to be. I love the wisdom of Ashton Applewhite, the anti-ageism campaigner when she talks about her knees.
For a long time she’d assumed that pain in one knee was age-related. But then she thought about it and realized that her knees were the same age, so if pain in one of them was age-related how come the other one didn’t also ache?! Listen to Ashton on the Magnificent Midlife Podcast.
Natural remedies to try
Make sure you are sufficiently hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you suffer from hot flashes or night sweats.
Take the time to sort out your diet. Following an anti-inflammatory diet will make a big difference. Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and their associated oils. For more on a good menopause diet click here.
Many people believe meat can exacerbate aches and pains in later life so consider moving more towards plant proteins such as soya beans and quinoa for example. Eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Turmeric, taken with black pepper to aid absorption, is also thought to be great as an anti-inflammatory. I’m sure you’ve also heard that following a Mediterranean diet is particularly good to reduce inflammation in the body.
Add natural phytoestrogens to your diet. These can be found in soy and flaxseed, for example, and will help to boost hormonal balance and counteract any impact from declining estrogen. This will help with most menopause-related symptoms because phytoestrogens help to balance your hormones naturally.
Make sure you are getting enough Vitamin D. In the winter, or if you live in a place where there isn’t so much sunshine, take a daily supplement to make sure you are getting enough.
Low levels of vitamin D are strongly associated with joint pain and stiffness and it’s easy to become deficient. This is the lower dose version I took pre-Covid. Research is showing Vitamin D can also help counter Covid infection, so double whammy! This is the higher dose version I’m now taking.
Many people find glucosamine or chondroitin supplements helpful for joint pain. I haven’t needed this yet but my neighbors swear by them!
Magnesium can really help with stiffness, joint and muscle pain. It’s also good for another menopause symptom, restless legs! It helps to calm our nervous system and I take it regularly in the evening. It’s supposed to be more effective when taken with calcium. This is what I take.
You can also take it in the form of an Epsom salts bath which can be very soothing of an evening. Why not buy in bulk?! Much cheaper than the small bags you can buy.
Cut out refined sugar and carbohydrates from your diet as these are both highly inflammatory. Similarly processed meat is not going to help.
Also consider cutting down on alcohol which is generally pretty bad for women’s bones and doesn’t help our hormones either! Read more about alcohol and menopause here.
Track what you have consumed in a food diary and how you feel each day, so you can be aware of what may be triggering extra pain.
Make sure you move regularly! We spend so much of our time sitting down these days and I truly believe sitting is the new smoking. Get a standing desk, take regular breaks and set an alarm on your computer or your phone to prompt you to get up regularly.
One of the most flexible women I’ve ever met, Katherine Allen, has an alarm on her computer every 30 minutes and she will get up and do a full body shake when it goes off. In her 70s she can lift her foot above her shoulder!
Start a yoga practice, (like Katherine). This I believe is absolutely crucial for long term health and wellness especially for women as we go through perimenopause.
A gentle practice of the flowing Surya Namaskara (sun salutations) helps to increase flexibility in the joints and works every muscle in the body, a complete physical and emotional workout in itself.
Try practising 5-10 rounds of sun salutations per day. Even if you don’t have time for other yoga, you will experience dramatic relief from general aches and pains.
Yoga has been proven to help people suffering from joint issues such as arthritis, as well as helping to relieve the stress that can put additional pressure on our hormones. Find out more about why yoga is so great for menopause here.
I hope these ideas will be of help. Definitely start the yoga practice! That will help enormously. And get up and move regularly. Don’t get stuck ‘in the box’ as your body will stiffen up accordingly.
You don’t want to be chair shaped either! Try sitting on the floor. You’ll fidget and that means you’ll be moving around more to get comfortable!
Good luck and if you discover anything else that really helps you, please let us know!
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Rachel Lankester is founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.