Happy 2022 folks, I hope you all had a lovely break over Christmas, as I did, and that you are raring to embrace 2022.
It’s great to be back to continue my weekly A-Z of Menopause blog and continuing on from last year we find ourselves at J and therefore I would like to talk to you about JOINT PAIN…..just another little treasure that can manifest during Perimenopause and Menopause.
So, as with so many of the other symptoms of Perimenopause and Menopause there is no clear reason why this happens but it is thought that these achy and swollen joints may be due to falling oestrogen levels….surprise, surprise!!
Oestrogen is thought to protect joints and reduce inflammation, and when these levels drop during menopause, inflammation can increase and cause joint pain.
So how would you be able to identify any joint discomfort you are feeling as a reduced oestrogen level and not just general aches and pains of getting that little bit older? What does menopausal specific joint pain feel like?
Menopausal joint pain is often at its worst in the morning when joints are stiff from not being used overnight. As the day progresses, movement starts to increase, and the pain may lessen because the joints are loosening up. Joints that are frequently affected during menopause are the neck, jaw, shoulders, and elbows, through the wrists and fingers may also experience some pain.
The discomfort can be characterised by stiffness, shooting pains, sometimes even swelling is evident and even a burning sensation after working out.
In addition, the lower oestrogen levels associated with menopause can increase the risk of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in women over 50, resulting in the joint pain that is being attributed to menopause itself, so it is always recommended to speak to your GP if you are experiencing this.
Osteoporosis is the thinning of the bones and can be accelerated by the lower levels of oestrogen. The condition that causes the bones to become thin and brittle puts women at risk for developing osteoarthritis, which is also characterised by swollen and painful joints.
So, alongside the reduction in oestrogen levels, it is recognised that there are a number of contributing factors that lead to joint pain during menopause including, dehydration, stress weight gain, diet, and poor posture. Let’s look at those reasons in a little more detail.
Oestrogen, along with so many other jobs, is responsible for regulating fluid levels in the body; therefore, if levels of this hormone are low, the body becomes less able to hold water, which can affect the hydration and lubrication of the joint tissues, including the cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
Water is also needed to help support the flexibility and elasticity of the ligaments and tendons. Ligaments connect one bone to another and are needed for joint stability, while tendons connect your muscles to the bones. When your ligaments and tendons lose their elasticity, your range and ease of movement can be reduced. So, not drinking enough water and excessive sweating during menopause can also contribute to dehydration at this time. If you find that you experience joint pain and stiffness more in the morning, then dehydration during the night could be a contributory factor, especially if you are also experiencing night sweats.
Now as you may recall in my hot flushes’ blog, I talked about how, although hot flushes can start due to the hormonal imbalances, they can then also become a learned response, fuelled by our brain’s fight or flight process. You may also recall the thing that can exacerbate this (and of course so many other Menopausal symptoms is stress and oh…guess what it is also recognised as a contributing factor to joint pain. I am often amazed how all of these issues can be linked and stress is often at the heart of the problem.
If you are experiencing a lot of stress and not taking active steps to manage this, your body will release high quantities of the hormone cortisol. This hormone works as an inflammatory agent when present long-term, and so high levels of stress during the menopause will only make your joint pain worse. Stress can also cause our muscles to tense up; this tension causes our joints to work so much harder which can lead to further inflammation and discomfort.
As we are sadly all too aware, Menopause can also lead us to have difficulty managing our weight and excess weight puts additional pressure on weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips. It is said that every pound of excess weight exerts about four pounds of extra pressure on the knees. Once again those stress and anxiety levels, as well as a lack of motivation to carry out activity, can also cause weight gain. Even the loss of just few pounds can help take the pressure off your joints, improving mobility and relieving pain.
Closely linked with our weight of course is the diet we eat and although we often like to place the blame on our dear old friend the Carb, Carbohydrates aren’t the only foods that can be a problem, there are many foods which can actually trigger joint pain. Sugary foods, high-salt and processed food, as well as caffeine, fizzy drinks, and dairy can all trigger inflammation in the joints and aggravate joint pain.
Finally in the list is poor posture. Slouching puts extra pressure on your joints. It limits your range of motion and makes it so much harder for your muscles to take the load off your joints and, in time, it can cause misalignment of the spine which eventually leads to even more joint stress and pain. As you know I am a huge advocate of Yoga for both body and mind and of course this is an excellent way to maintain a good posture.
As we’ve discussed before, often during Menopause we are caught up in the cycle of having an overflowing stress bucket which easily zaps any motivation and focus to start to look at any goals that might start to address contributing factors such as weight and diet management. I am always so excited when I see the fantastic results that Solution Focused Therapy brings my clients, moving them out of that negative cycle and working with them to make positive changes in relation to diet and exercise, not only having positive physical effects on the waistline but the joints, posture and overall, well being too. SFT can help guide you to lifestyle changes that may reduce your pain and make managing your symptoms easier.
For example, consistent exercise can help prevent your joints from becoming stiff and sore, and finding the motivation to carry out even low-impact exercises such as swimming, biking, hiking, and yoga can be hugely beneficial.
When considering our diet, increasing protein intake can help. Adding more protein into your diet can help you maintain muscle mass, which is vital to balance and bone support. Adults aged 60 and older should consume approximately 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of weight per day. For example, a 200-pound person over the age of 60 should aim to consume 108 grams of protein daily in order to maintain muscle mass and prevent joint pain.
In addition, if you smoke, now is the time to quit. Smoking can increase your risk of cardiovascular issues, diabetes, cancer, and even bones loss. Similarly, smoking can slow or prevent your bones’ ability to heal properly, meaning joint pain and stiffness may be more common in menopausal women who smoke. Once again, smoking is simply a learned behaviour that we subconsciously rely on to support our emotional responses and SFT can help to retrain the brain out of that response and create new neural pathways to allow you to quit smoking.
As always I am still blown away by the benefits of Hypnotherapy and am always so eager to share those benefits with my clients, I look forward to hearing from you to arrange your FREE Initial Consultation.