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Body

menopause and pain

By | Fact Checked By Andrea Donsky |

Are you suddenly experiencing pain in places you didn’t even know you had? Are you worried about these new pains or worsening pain you already have? Pain in menopause can be surprising to many women, so let’s clear up what’s going on.

What is pain?

Pain is defined as an uncomfortable feeling that is a sign that something is damaged, not functioning properly, or is otherwise not right. It can manifest in many ways, such as stabbing, stinging, aching, throbbing, pinching, or burning. Some pain is mild while others can be moderately disturbing or even debilitating. Short-term pain is called acute, while long-term, persistent pain is chronic. 

Pain has the ability to cause physical symptoms, such as weakness, drowsiness, dizziness, or nausea. It can make you feel angry, frustrated, depressed, sad, or irritable, and it has the power to alter your sense of self, independence, relationships, and lifestyle. 

How is pain associated with menopause?

When estrogen levels begin to fluctuate and decline, that’s when a woman’s estrogen receptors can begin to react. These receptors are located throughout the body, and when they are activated they can be associated with inflammation and pain. 

For example, women in menopause often complain about painful knees, hips, back, neck, and shoulders. When estrogen levels are normal, as they typically are before perimenopause and menopause, the hormone binds directly to estrogen receptors on tissues and other places in the body. Estrogen helps protect joints. 

Read about menopause and joint pain

But when estrogen levels begin to decline and fall lower and lower, their protective task wanes, and pain, stiffness, and inflammation can be the result. Declining estrogen levels can also result in wear and tear of the joints, accompanied by pain. Hormonal changes can also cause pain in the lower abdomen, feet, and pelvis, as well as digestive pain, vaginal pain (associated with vaginal dryness and thinning of vaginal tissue), shoulder pain, and more.

Read about menopause and headaches or migraine

Headache and migraine are common in women in midlife. Changing estrogen levels in perimenopause may increase the frequency of migraine headaches, but they may cease when menopause is reached. However, for some women they get worse. Unfortunately, “there is no way to predict how menopause will affect someone’s migraine pattern.” 

In a study appearing in Menopause, the authors evaluated the presence of chronic pain in more than 200,000 midlife women. They found that among the women in menopause, there was nearly a two-fold greater odds of chronic pain and multiple chronic pain diagnoses than those not in this life transition. 

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How to manage pain in menopause naturally

Management of and relief from pain in menopause can take many forms, depending on the location and type of pain. Here are some lifestyle and natural remedies that address various types of pain. 

Boost hormonal balance. Since hormone disruption is a key issue with pain in the menopause years, taking steps to rein it in can help provide relief. Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels and make sure you eat regularly and focus on natural, whole foods. Also include foods with natural phytoestrogens, such as flaxseed and soy, which can help balance your hormones naturally.

Stay hydrated. Keep an environmentally friendly water container with you at all times to remind you to drink more water. Jazz up your water with lemon, cucumber, or strawberries. 

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. Inflammation is a huge factor in pain, so why not help beat it by eating foods that not only don’t promote inflammation but that fight it as well. These include berries, grapes, avocado, cruciferous vegetables, green tea, oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, oats, nuts, seeds, legumes, and brown and wild rice. A basic guidelines: follow the Mediterranean or DASH diets. 

Do the D. Most people don’t get enough vitamin D from sunshine or their diet. Insufficient vitamin D is associated with joint pain, so it’s often necessary to take a supplement. Check with your doctor before taking vitamin D so you know your levels and how much you need to take.

Stretch. Too many women forget this simple but highly effective tip. Not only should you do several minutes of stretching before and after an exercise session; stretch throughout the day as well! Begin with a full body stretch before you even get out of bed and do it again before you fall asleep. Also get up and stretch for a minutes several times a day—it boosts blood flow, energizes you, and improves flexibility. You also might incorporate some yoga stretches into your routine.

Get physical. Regular exercise—4 to 5 days a week—helps keep you flexible, promotes blood flow, assists with weight control, and improves range of motion. Do a combination of aerobic (walking, spinning, swimming) and strength training.

Supplement with glucosamine or chondroitin. These natural supplements can be taken alone, but the combination may provide better relief from joint pain. In a 2022 review and meta-analysis, the authors concluded that “Chondroitin combined with glucosamine is more effective than chondroitin or glucosamine alone in the treatment of KOA [knee osteoarthritis] and deserves clinical promotion.”

Take magnesium. This mineral can help relieve joint and muscle pain and stiffness. If you take it at night, it may help you sleep as well. A 250- to 300-mg dose is suggested.

Consider acupuncture. Much research has looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture to relieve pain. In a 2019 article in American Family Physician, the authors noted that acupuncture has been shown to be effective in providing relief in migraine, headache, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, knee osteoarthritis, myofascial pain, neck pain, and more. 

When to call your doctor

If your efforts to manage your pain don’t provide results or your pain begins to affect your ability to perform your daily activities, contact your physician. Also contact your healthcare provider if you experience fever, rash, or other symptoms along with your pain.

Bottom line

Declining estrogen is associated with the development of pain in the menopausal years. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Adopt natural pain relief methods and address the underlying cause of pain to reap the most benefit.

Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) & Menopause Expert. Andrea is in menopause & has been researching for the last 5 years science-based ingredients and methods to help women manage their symptoms. She’s the Founder of NaturallySavvy.com—a multiple award-winning website. Andrea co-authored the book “Unjunk Your Junk Food” published by Simon and Schuster, as well as “Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart,” and “Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid’s Lunch Box.” Andrea co-hosts the Morphus for Menopause podcast and appears as a Healthy Living Expert on TV across North America. Andrea has more than 20 years of experience in the health & wellness space and is a multiple award-winning Influencer.