Aches and pains are a normal part of aging, and they become much more common during menopause. And while joint pains may be triggered by underlying illness, they’re more often caused by your changing hormone balance. In this post, we’ve collected some of the best strategies for managing menopausal joint pains. But first, let’s explore what these aches are and why they happen.
Everyday aches and pains are incredibly common among adults of all ages. They can result from lingering injuries, medication side effects, or simple wear and tear on your body. But as you approach menopause, this experience becomes much more prevalent. Research shows that over half of people report some form of joint pain (technically known as arthralgia) in the years around menopause.
During your reproductive years, you have high amounts of estrogen—an important sex hormone that influences every part of your body. But as you approach menopause, your estrogen levels fall. This can trigger a slew of common menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, and vaginal dryness. It also seems to cause joint pain in a large number of people.
Your joints are complex workings of bone, cartilage, muscle, ligaments, and a soft tissue called synovium. All of these tissues are rich in estrogen receptors, making them highly sensitive to the hormone’s presence. Studies show that estrogen can help your body maintain cartilage and other joint tissues. If estrogen levels are low and these tissues become damaged, you may experience more friction in your joints—and thus more pain. (This also explains why joint pain is common among people who use estrogen-blocking drugs called aromatase inhibitors.)
Joint pain during menopause can take many different forms. The pain may feel like a dull ache, a twinge, or a shooting sensation. Your joints may also feel stiff. And while joints themselves are most commonly affected, the pain may also seem to emanate from your tendons, muscles, or bones. These symptoms vary a great deal from person to person, and your experience will be unique.
There are many illnesses and injuries that can cause joint pain. But two in particular cause symptoms which are sometimes mistaken for normal menopause pains.
Not to be confused with osteoarthritis (which is extremely common), rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease in which your body attacks its own joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can cause joint pain, aching, and swelling.
Fibromyalgia is an illness that causes chronic musculoskeletal pain. This pain can affect the whole body, including your joints. Fibromyalgia also causes headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and brain fog, and may be accompanied by symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Many of these symptoms overlap with normal menopause symptoms, which can lead to confusion between the two conditions. The underlying causes of fibromyalgia are not well understood.
If you’re noticing more joint pain during the menopause transition, it’s essential to discuss with your healthcare provider. They’ll rule out more serious medical causes (like RA and fibromyalgia) and ensure that any home remedies you want to explore are safe and appropriate. Here are some strategies you can try with your doctor’s supervision.
Motion is lotion! That’s a catchphrase many physical therapists are fond of, as physical activity is a reliable joint lubricant. Research shows it can reduce joint pain during menopause, probably by strengthening and stabilizing joints. Just make sure you’re engaging in moderate, low-impact exercise—think yoga, walking, and swimming. High-impact exercises (such as running) can put excessive stress on your joints that can worsen inflammation.
One of the many negative health impacts of smoking is an increase in joint pain and chronic pain generally. Research also shows that smoking exacerbates menopause symptoms across the board, including hot flashes and night sweats. There are more resources than ever to help you quit smoking, so ask your doctor for help.
Decreasing your inflammation level during menopause may help ease joint pain, so consider stocking up on foods with anti-inflammatory properties. A nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices (especially turmeric and cinnamon) has been proven effective in addressing joint pain.
A little stress is part of life—but too much is linked to more difficult menopause symptoms and diminished overall health. Research specifically shows that high levels of stress can cause more intense joint pain during menopause. Don’t know where to start? Try mindfulness-based stress reduction, which was proven in a 2018 study to reduce anxiety during menopause. Light exercise and spending a little time in nature are also verified stress-busters.
If you’re carrying a little extra weight, losing it is one of the most powerful and long-lasting ways to protect your joints during menopause. After all, your joints have to carry your body weight. And when you walk up a flight of stairs, the force on each joint can be doubled or tripled. That’s why even losing a few pounds can make a big difference. Of course, losing weight can be tricky. If you’re looking for a good place to start, research shows that the Mediterranean diet is an effective strategy for weight loss during menopause.
Simple, over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen and Tylenol are a well-established tool for treating joint pain during menopause. Treating the joint with cold packs and/or hot compresses can also be helpful. Make sure to listen to your body and work closely with your doctor!
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) uses estrogen medication to support your falling natural estrogen levels. This FDA-approved treatment is the most powerful and effective approach for treating hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. Recent research has suggested that MHT may ease menopausal joint pain as well. This is no surprise, as MHT addresses estrogen withdrawal—a potential root cause of joint pain and countless other menopause symptoms.
If you’re experiencing joint pain during menopause, let your healthcare provider know. They can help you rule out serious causes and work with you on a safe home treatment approach. See a doctor right away if the joint that’s troubling you looks abruptly different (e.g. it’s swollen, red, or feels warm to the touch), if the pain is intense, or if you can no longer use the joint.
Aches and pains are one of the less well-known symptoms of menopause—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously. Talk with your healthcare provider about your joint pain to rule out serious illnesses. If your pain is caused by falling estrogen levels, you may be able to address it using menopausal hormone therapy. Holistic treatments and home remedies (such as exercise, anti-inflammatory foods, and stress reduction) can also help you reduce pain and protect your joints for years to come.