When it comes to musculoskeletal complaints, shoulder pain is right behind back and neck problems. Among women, menopause and shoulder pain has a special connection, so let’s explore that relationship here.
What is shoulder pain?
The shoulder is composed of three bones: the shoulder blade (scapula), the upper arm bone (humerus), and the collarbone (clavicle). Pain in the shoulder can come from a variety of causes, including inflamed or torn tendon (bursitis or tendinitis), arthritis, fracture, infection, tumor, or nerve damage.
Contributing factors include age (peaking around 50 in women), declining levels of collagen (causing loss of flexibility among cartilage, tendons, and ligaments), diabetes, and repetitious movements. Depending on the cause, symptoms can include inflammation, pain, weakness in the shoulder when lifted or rotated, and limited range of motion.
How is shoulder pain associated with menopause?
Among women, hormone changes associated with perimenopause and thyroid problems have both been associated with shoulder pain, including frozen shoulder. For women who have preexisting shoulder pain, it may become more problematic once estrogen levels begin to decline since this hormone helps reduce inflammation.
In a 2020 article from Brazil, the investigators noted that “Thyroid disorders, especially hypothyroidism and the presence of benign thyroid nodules, are risk factors significantly associated with frozen shoulder,” increasing the chances of developing this condition by 2.69 times. Hypothyroidism is most common among middle-aged women, the same time they are going through the menopause years.
How can you manage shoulder pain in menopause naturally?
If you have hypothyroidism or suspect you may (some symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation), you should seek attention from your physician. Otherwise, natural management of shoulder pain may include the following choices:
- Simple exercises that can be done at home to improve range of motion and reduce pain, a physical therapist or osteopath can show you which ones are most effective.
- Use of heat (hot water bottle, heating pad, hot sauna) applied for 10 to 15 minutes once or twice a day can help before you do exercises for your shoulder. However, you can also apply heat for pain relief when not exercising.
- Acupuncture has been shown to help with shoulder pain. In a 2005 study, use of acupuncture plus exercise provided more relief than exercise alone when it came to pain, range of motion, and function for up to five months, although the researchers urged more investigation. However, a later study involving frozen shoulder and acupuncture revealed more positive results.
- Anti-inflammatory diet. You can help fight shoulder pain every day by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. This consists of healthy fats (olive, avocado, and coconut oils, salmon, tuna, nuts, seeds), fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and foods with healthy bacteria such as kefir, kimchee, natural sauerkraut, and yogurt.
- Take anti-inflammatory supplements. Boswellia, coenzyme Q10, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids (as fish oil or flaxseed oil), and turmeric all possess anti-inflammatory properties. Take according to package directions.
- Essential oils. Use of essential oils on the affected shoulder may provide some relief. In a 2010 study, researchers reported that bergamot, cloves, eucalyptus, fennel, rose, and thyme all provided pain and inflammation relief, with thyme and its active ingredient carvacrol providing the most benefit. Peppermint essential oil also may reduce inflammation.
- Licorice. Use of licorice (referred to as kanzo-to in the study) for frozen shoulder was found to relieve not only the pain and improve range of motion but also help with severe menopausal symptoms. It was a very small study, however, so more research is needed.
when to call your doctor
If your shoulder pain is interfering with your ability to perform daily activities or your efforts to manage the pain have been unsuccessful, you should consult with your doctor. Anyone with hypothyroidism also should talk to their doctor about the relationship between shoulder pain and the disease.
Shoulder pain, including frozen shoulder, develops in some women who are in perimenopause or menopause. If natural remedies do not provide relief or hypothyroidism is also present, be sure to consult your physician.