Muscular and joint aches and pains are common symptoms associated with menopause -- the time when your menstrual period will permanently stop. Over half of women in menopause will experience increased joint stiffness and discomfort. The cause of this pain is multifactorial and, in many cases, manageable with conservative lifestyle modifications and natural health care options.
Protective Effects of Estrogen
Estrogen protects cartilage -- padding between the bones in your joints -- by virtue of its anti-inflammatory properties. With menopause, decreasing levels of estrogen translate to potentially increasing levels of inflammation and joint degeneration. Decades of wear and tear on joints may become more pronounced as the body is challenged to manage inflammation without the help of estrogen.
Impaired sleep tops the list of complaints for many menopausal women and contributes to menopausal aches and pains. Insomnia can stem from night sweats, causing a woman to wake many times during the night, or from diminished levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone and melatonin -- the hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain that controls the body's day/night cycle. Regardless of the cause, lack of sleep can become its own vicious cycle, leading to increased pain sensitivity, decreased tissue healing and increased joint breakdown.
Diet can be an important tool for women managing menopause. Unlike hormone replacement therapy or some estrogenic herbs, dietary modifications provide many of the benefits and none of the increased risks of cancer or osteoporosis. The symptoms of menopause, including joint and muscle pain, are strong motivators in the search for relief, and many women do well by eliminating or drastically reducing sugar consumption, red meat, dairy, saturated and trans fats -- with the possible exception of yogurt.
A number of medicinal herbs have salicylate compounds--the active ingredient in aspirin -- and can be used to help with joint pain and inflammation in a similar manner to over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs without the attendant side effects. Aside from taxing the liver and kidneys, NSAIDs have an inhibitory effect on cartilage production. Many herbs are purported to have immune building, anti-oxidant and healing properties that pain medications do not possess. Diosgenin, an active component in wild yam, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. As with all remedies, consult a qualified health care professional to determine an appropriate course of therapy.
Muscles and joints rely on exercise for a healthy exchange of nutrients and waste products. Gentle exercise is important during menopause for its pain-relieving qualities, and it also improves quality of sleep. Stretching, yoga, walking and swimming are gentle exercises that provide an optimal combination of flexibility, strengthening and aerobic training.