Menopause, a physiological event usually occurring in midlife and signaling the end of ovarian function, is often accompanied by a host of physical symptoms. Marked by the cessation of menstruation, menopause often causes "hot flashes," thinning bones and hair, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and various aches and pains, particularly backaches.
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As described on ThirdAge.com, the signs of impending menopause are distributed among all systems and include irregular menstrual periods, marked mood swings, weight gain, depression, headaches, itching, loss of libido, incontinence, hair loss, ringing in the ears, and insomnia. Especially prominent and bothersome is soreness and aching in the joints, muscles and tendons. While backache is considered a hallmark feature of menopause, soreness can occur virtually anywhere in the body.
According to 34-Menopause-Symptoms.com, experts believe that over half of postmenopausal women experience some degree of joint pain. This pain is a consequence of immune system changes which occur as a result of unstable hormone levels. Decreasing levels of circulating estrogen may cause headaches as well as an "electric shock" sensation beneath the skin and in the head, and many women even experience a "burning tongue" sensation as well.
Joint pain related to menopause is strongly correlated with osteoporosis, or bone-density loss, as both conditions are fueled by declining estrogen levels. Bone loss occurs most rapidly in the early post-menopausal years, but continues at a slower rate thereafter, often leading to debilitating changes and posture and mobility and greatly increasing the risk of various types of bone fractures. Joint pain in conjunction with osteoporosis can make formerly simple and painless tasks extremely difficult to perform.
While estrogen acts directly to reduce inflammation and therefore helps stave off the kind of joint pain women in the midst of or beyond menopause typically encounter, there are a variety of causes of joint pain that have nothing to do with hormonal levels or fluctuations. These include injuries to joints, insufficient amounts of exercise, inflammation, general wear and tear, metabolic disorders, stress, hereditary factors, bone diseases, and more serious conditions such as cancer.
As noted on WomenToWomen.com, there are a variety of effective strategies for reducing or eliminating joint pain related to menopause. Among these are eating fewer simple sugars and refined carbohydrates, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, supplementation with multivitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, and regular moderate exercise. In severe cases, prescription medications and even surgery provide viable treatments, although in such instances risks must be carefully weighed against likely benefits.