There’s a lot of change during perimenopause and getting more aches and pains is often something women notice. It could just be that you’re getting a bit older and perhaps not moving your body enough. Sometimes it’s hormonal changes or it could be something else entirely. It helps to understand more about what may be going on to help identify the right remedies for menopause aches and pains.
Estrogen has 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 around menopause.
If we put on weight, as often happens in midlife and around menopause, we can increase the 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 post menopause (instead of the ovaries) that is needed for healthy joints (Jackie Lynch, The Happy Menopause).
It could also 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.
When it comes to pain 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 ways to ease aches and pains
1. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you suffer from hot flashes or night sweats.
2. Balance your blood sugar and improve your diet. This will help with your overall hormonal balance which will help with anything that can be attributed to hormonal fluctuation. Reduce actual stress and also the blood sugar spikes and drops that can lead the body to think it is under stress and stop producing estrogen in favor of stress hormones.
A little good food and often, and eating protein and complex carbohydrates (such as beans, whole grains, and starchy vegetables), which are high in fiber, with every meal is a good way to go. Now is the perfect time to make your diet healthier overall and include lots of fresh vegetables. Cut out that processed food as much as you can. Refined carbohydrates, in particular, are known to mess with our hormones generally, quite apart from the blood sugar spiking effect.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and reduce your sugar, processed foods and caffeine intake. Eating organic when you can will also help, as you’re cutting out any pesticide or hormonal additions to food that can have an impact on your own hormones. Consider cutting down on alcohol, which is generally pretty bad for women’s bones and doesn’t help our hormones either!
3. 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.
Here’s a comprehensive list of foodstuffs that can also help. Daily ground flaxseeds on my breakfast cereal as well as organic soya milk instead of dairy have massively helped me.
4. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet . This will make a big difference. Include foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and their associated oils. Many people believe meat can exacerbate aches and pains in later life, so consider eating less meat and moving more towards plant proteins such as soya beans and quinoa for example. Eat more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.
Cut out refined sugar and carbohydrates (those again!) as these are both highly inflammatory. Similarly processed meat is not going to help. I’m sure you’ve also heard that following a Mediterranean diet is particularly good to reduce inflammation in the body. Track what you’ve consumed in a food diary and how you feel each day, so you can be aware of what may be triggering extra pain.
5. Try Turmeric, taken with black pepper to aid absorption, as it is also thought to be great as an anti-inflammatory.
6. 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 take.
7. Try glucosamine or chondroitin (or both together) supplements. Many people find glucosamine and/or chondroitin helpful for joint pain. I haven’t needed this yet but my neighbors swear by them!
8. 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.
9. 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!
10. 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!