For women, menopause can present mental, emotional, and physical challenges. Menopause is a natural stage of a woman’s life when certain hormone levels decline, causing symptoms from mood swings to hot flashes.
Joint pain may also accompany menopause. While this lesser-known symptom can be normal, it may also point to a much more serious issue.
About half of menopausal women experience arthralgia (joint pain). While the potential for aches and stiffness due to hormonal changes is not the best news, there is good news: Joint pain is treatable.
How to Know If Your Pain Is Just Menopause
Though forms of chronic pain (joint pain, migraines, pain during intercourse) are common symptoms of menopause, some types of pain may also point to cancer.
Be on the lookout for joint pain in your hands. One 2018 review found that palmar fasciitis and polyarthritis, which cause joint pain in the hands, often precede discovery of ovarian cancer. Also, pelvic and back pain are common symptoms of ovarian and uterine cancers.
Gynecologic cancers aren’t the only concern when it comes to joint pain. Bone cancer can lead to joint pain. Blood cancers like leukemia can also cause joints to ache. Also, the American Cancer Society notes that new and recurring pain (sometimes accompanied by fatigue and weight loss) can be a sign of cancer in general.
Be sure to document and discuss any new symptoms, especially new and persistent pain, with your healthcare provider. Ignoring or dismissing pain could mean missing early cancer detection.
And if you feel your pain is dismissed by your provider, get a second opinion! Unfortunately, women, in particular, often experience medical gaslighting (intentionally or not).
Why Your Joints Hurt During Menopause
During premenopause and perimenopause, a woman’s ovaries produce less estrogen and progesterone. These hormonal fluctuations can cause the following common symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Irregular periods
- Night sweats
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
Estrogen and progesterone are naturally anti-inflammatory. When estrogen levels drop during the various stages of menopause, joints can become inflamed, resulting in aches and stiffness.
Estrogen receptors are located throughout the body, including the joints. When estrogen levels fluctuate and drop, your joints feel the impact of that inflammatory response.
What does menopause joint pain feel like? Menopause joint pain can feel like a dull ache, sharp pain, or a burning sensation (especially after rigorous activity, like working out). Joint pain and stiffness go hand in hand because we adjust how we manipulate our movement and posture to avoid the pain.
Joint pain will typically be worse in the morning, since the body has been inactive. As the day goes on, the musculoskeletal system loosens up. Joint pain tends to affect the neck, shoulders, elbows and arms. Back pain and jaw pain is also common.
What are the causes of joint pain from menopause? The primary cause of joint pain from menopause is lower estrogen levels. In rarer cases, this pain may be a sign of cancer.
Because estrogen helps protect bones, it’s not uncommon for women to develop osteoporosis, which causes loss of bone density once menopause sets in. In fact, 1 in 2 postmenopausal women suffer from osteoporosis.
According to a 2018 study, menopause has been linked to the onset of osteoarthritis. Both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis can contribute to menopausal joint pain.
Sadly, women who go into menopause early (before the age of 45) are also at an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Should you experience joint pain as described below, contact your healthcare provider:
- Joint pain becomes unbearable
- Joint no longer functions properly
- Abnormal or excessive swelling surrounding a particular joint
- Severe joint pain for more than a few days
- The limb attached to the joint becomes numb.
Are Menopausal Joint Pain and Fatigue Temporary?
Most menopause symtpoms clear up over time, but joint pain and fatigue may remain.
Will joint pain from menopause go away? Joint pain might go away as the body becomes used to lower estrogen levels; however, this is not a given.
Conventional Treatment For Menopausal Joint Pain
What are treatment options for menopause joint pain? Common treatment options for menopausal joint pain include over-the-counter pain relievers, HRT/bHRT, lifestyle changes, and dietary supplements.
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may take the edge off of joint pain.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) effectively curbs menopausal symptoms but is associated with serious side effects. Conventional HRT can increase the risk of:
- Blood clots
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
For a safer alternative, consider bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (bHRT). bHRT uses hormones most similar to the ones your body naturally produces, which may reduce the risk of side effects for some patients.
What helps with menopause joint pain? Movement is great for joint pain. Also, lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, developing a healthy diet, and quitting smoking can help.
Natural Remedies and Supplement Recommendations
Exercise is vital in keeping joints flexible and fighting inflammation. Low-impact exercises such as swimming, yoga, and Pilates are great options for those suffering from joint pain.
Getting more vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which strengthens bones. Strong bones and flexible joints go hand-in-hand. Consider eating foods high in vitamin D (cod liver oil, salmon, etc.), and spend at least 15-20 minutes per day in the sun to avoid vitamin D deficiency.
Magnesium has also been shown to aid in joint pain relief.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help ease joint pain and can help decrease inflammation throughout the body. Avoid highly processed foods and fill your diet with plenty of leafy greens, healthy fats, clean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
Foods that can help combat inflammation include:
- Fish like mackerel and salmon (known for being high in omega-3 fatty acids)
- Fruits including blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries
- Leafy green veggies such as kale and spinach
- Legumes including beans and nuts
An anti-inflammatory diet can be great for your gut, too. Especially if you’re experiencing signs of poor gut health, don’t ignore the importance of your gut for preventing infection, illness, and inflammation.
Lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet, can also help with weight loss. Losing some of your bodyweight will lighten the load on weight-bearing joints, such as hips and knees, which may relieve joint pain and improve your overall health.
If Your Primary Doctor Isn’t Helping, Our Doctors Can
Ideally, your doctor’s office should be a safe space. You should feel free to confide in your doctor any concerns you may have in regards to your health. However, sometimes this isn’t the case.
If you feel your doctor doubts the severity of your symptoms or is perhaps ignoring you in some way, try the following techniques:
- Prepare a list: Whether on your phone or in a notepad, have a list of questions and symptoms you wish to address during the visit. This way, nothing is forgotten even if you feel “put on the spot.”
- Start a health journal: This may sound tedious, but doctors always ask when symptoms tend to arise. Keeping track of when you experience symptoms can offer insight into possible causes or triggers. This information could be very useful to your doctor, and it’s easy to track in a simple note on your phone.
- Relax: Sometimes medical professionals can be curt and even intimidating. Try not to let this get to you. This is your appointment. Take a deep breath and pose the questions you have. The objective for medical professionals should be to help their patients.
- Revisit questions or symptoms: Don’t be afraid to repeat a question or a symptom that wasn’t addressed thoroughly.
- Voice your concern: Respectfully communicate with the doctor and let them know you feel unheard. Transparency is important, even if it may feel uncomfortable. The doctor may not realize he/she is coming across as insensitive.
- Request a referral: Letting your doctor know you’re interested in getting a second opinion is normal and should be respected.
And if conventional treatment for your menopause treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, consider functional medicine instead. At Sano Health Club, our patients are our first priority. You deserve to feel heard!
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- Magliano, M. (2010). Menopausal arthralgia: fact or fiction. Maturitas, 67(1), 29-33.
- Kajikawa, H., Sobajima, T., Koiwai, C., Ichigo, S., Takagi, H., & Imai, A. (2018). Palmar fasciitis with polyarthritis-associated ovarian cancer: Case report and literature review. Molecular and Clinical Oncology, 8(2), 292-295.
- Vegeto, E., Benedusi, V., & Maggi, A. (2008). Estrogen anti-inflammatory activity in brain: a therapeutic opportunity for menopause and neurodegenerative diseases. Frontiers in neuroendocrinology, 29(4), 507-519.
- Mahajan, A., & Patni, R. (2018). Menopause and osteoarthritis: any association?. Journal of Mid-life Health, 9(4), 171.
- Pikwer, M., Bergström, U., Nilsson, J. Å., Jacobsson, L., & Turesson, C. (2012). Early menopause is an independent predictor of rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the rheumatic diseases, 71(3), 378-381.
- Barrett-Connor, E., & Stuenkel, C. A. (2001). Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)—risks and benefits. International Journal of Epidemiology, 30(3), 423-426.
- Hormones, B. (2006). A comprehensive review of the safety and efficacy of bioidentical hormones for the management of menopause and related health risks. Altern Med Rev, 11(3), 208-223.
- Shmagel, A., Onizuka, N., Langsetmo, L., Vo, T., Foley, R., Ensrud, K., & Valen, P. (2018). Low magnesium intake is associated with increased knee pain in subjects with radiographic knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative. Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 26(5), 651-658.