Joint and Muscle Aches In Menopause - Elektra Health

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Joint & muscle aches

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Joint & muscle aches

Joint and muscle pain is a common, although less-well-known, symptom of menopause. It manifests as an achy, stiff, creaky feeling that may even have a slight burning sensation to it.


The science

In medical lingo, joint aches are known as “arthralgia” and muscle aches, “myalgia.” Both become increasingly common with age and the onset of menopause — a double whammy.

These aches can be localized to specific joints or generalized to an area like the lower back or neck/shoulders — tend to be worse in the morning, and usually improve throughout the day.

While scientists have yet to identify one single cause, they have presented a whole slew of evidence-based hypotheses.

Natural aging

Muscle mass peaks in our 20s. And while it may begin declining in our 30s, it’s really in our 40s and 50s that the loss of muscle mass, strength, and function accelerates the most. Known as “sarcopenia,” the condition may cause feelings of soreness. (Note: this is different from the achiness you may feel from working out.)

But unlike most symptoms that pay us a visit during these years, sarcopenia doesn’t seem to be majorly affected by decreases in estrogen. In fact, cross-sectional studies evaluating the effects of age on lean body mass and appendicular muscle mass have shown that the rate of muscle mass decline for females doesn’t necessarily increase after menopause. In other words, it’s more affected by age than it is by menopause itself.

Inflammation

Sarcopenia may not be influenced by hormonal changes and fluctuations, but inflammation definitely is.

Quick pause for those of us who want a refresher on inflammation even…as our body’s normal response to infection or injury, inflammation is what causes damaged tissues to release chemicals that signal to white blood cells that it’s time to start repairing — which is totally a good thing and exactly what we want to happen when there’s an injury. What we DON’T want, however, is for the inflammation to become chronic and spread throughout the body, because then it can cause joint pain and stiffness, among other troubles.

Estrogen wears many hats, one of which is reducing inflammation by binding to the specific estrogen receptors on our joints and connective tissues. So when levels of this hormone decrease during menopause, it can affect cartilage metabolism and lead to inflammatory-like pain. Estrogen also plays a role in joint lubrication, so declining estrogen = declining lubrication = more wear and tear on joints = increased risk of pain.

Also worth noting is the fact that estrogen levels may play a role in what’s called “pain modulation,” or the way we experience a painful sensation. This may explain why fibromyalgia — a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain — is ten times more common in women than men, with symptoms appearing after menopause in as many as 58% of women. According to Mayo Clinic, “widespread” in this definition means the “pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.”

Risk factors

Researchers have identified several risk factors for bodily aches and pains, including depression, high BMI, insomnia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Insomnia

This one works both ways, meaning insomnia (defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep more than three nights/week) can be both a result and cause of myalgia/arthralgia.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues and joints, causing swelling and feelings of achiness. Women are 2-4 times more likely to experience rheumatoid arthritis than men. It usually appears in the late 40s, suggesting that fluctuating hormone levels during perimenopause may play a role in initiating the condition.

Osteoarthritis

Like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis affects our joints; however, it is not an autoimmune condition, unlike rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, it’s classified as a “degenerative joint condition” (what a sad name, we know). This is an important point of differentiation since autoimmune disorders cause the body to essentially attack itself, while degenerative disorders cause the cartilage cushioning the joints to break down over time. When this happens, bones rub against each other, exposing nerves and causing pain.

Some refer to osteoarthritis as the “arthritis of menopause” since it primarily affects us around age 52.

Could your joint and muscle pain be caused by something NOT listed above? Of course. So if you find that it’s 1) increasing over time without relief or 2) interfering with your daily activities and quality of life, it’s worth consulting your healthcare provider (or Elektra!).

What you can do

We’re all about equipping you with the know-how to understand your symptoms, and we especially emphasize the specific, tangible ways to manage them. Our goal is to empower YOU to take charge of your menopause journey, starting today.

A quick note about product recommendations…Elektra Health is not paid to feature any products. We just like them and think you might too, though we can’t guarantee any results.


Lifestyle

Nutrition & Diet

Give your diet a Mediterranean makeover

Proper nutrition can work wonders to keep inflammation at bay, which is why we’re big, big fans of the Mediterranean diet.

It’s low in saturated fats and animal proteins, rich in antioxidants and fiber, low-carb, and low-sugar. It leaves out most refined and concentrated sugars to the curb and focuses instead on natural anti-inflammatory foods such as non-starchy veggies, beans, fruits, and whole grains, it’s considered a “low-glycemic index” diet — meaning it won’t dramatically spike our blood sugar (which triggers inflammation and aggravates joint pain).

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Don’t underestimate the power of good old-fashioned H2O in keeping our joints and tissues healthy. Pale clear urine is a good sign that you’re sufficiently hydrated.


Holistic Practices

Stress elevates levels of a hormone called cortisol, which causes inflammation. This is why it’s so (read: SO) important to do what we can to reduce stress by way of lifestyle changes. Here are some totally doable, evidence-based tips:

Cultivate a meditation practice

Over time, you’ll condition yourself to be more present while letting thoughts come and go. We recommend guided meditations on apps such as Headspace, Insight Timer, and Calm. Meditation not your thing? Try Heathmath, a form of biofeedback that can help with anxiety management. It focuses on breathing and heart rate, two physiologic functions that can contribute to that anxious feeling.

Cultivate a gratitude and/or journaling practice

Studies have linked both practices to decreased anxiety, and they can also help improve general feelings of well-being and facilitate mindfulness. Here are some great tips on how to start a gratitude practice.

Get high-quality sleep

Sleep disruptions affect neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels which, in turn, impair thinking and emotional regulation. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize those Zzzzsss. Here’s a handy guide with behavioral, nutritional, and supplemental solutions.

Prioritize downtime with family & friends

While we may be conditioned with a “go-go-go” mentality, it’s important to step back and prioritize rest and downtime with loved ones (pencil it into your calendar!). After all, human beings are social creatures, and we derive comfort from connection.

Don’t forget about “me” time

Call it what you want — self care, alone time, R&R — but you deserve it. There’s nothing “selfish” about taking time for yourself, especially when it supports your mental health and overall wellness. Think of it as putting your mask on first in an airplane, so you can be better equipped to help others.


Exercise

Because muscle is a more metabolically active tissue, regular exercise — specifically strength training — will help with weight maintenance as well as strength, endurance, stability, and balance in order to slow down muscle loss. Bonus points for the fact that strength training also supports bone health, which is particularly helpful for women since we lose strength and density at an accelerated rate around the onset of menopause (which in turn increases the risk of osteoporosis). You can find a variety of strength training workouts over on Fitnessblender.com.

If you’re experiencing pain, it’s important to keep moving even though the discomfort may make you want to sit still. But instead of high-impact exercise, keep it low impact: walking, swimming, yoga, and barre are great options.


Supplements & Over-the-Counter Solutions

Supplements and over-the-counter solutions may be effective in easing joint and muscle pain…if you choose wisely. We recommend consulting with your healthcare provider first to ensure you’re using something with optimal efficacy and safety (i.e. backed by clinical research) or consulting with Elektra’s providers. Here’s a quick primer from our team on how to go about selecting high-quality supplements.

Magnesium

This mineral, which is found on earth and in the human body, plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions. It’s found naturally in foods like leafy greens, salmon, nuts, seeds, and legumes, but many Americans don’t get enough through dietary sources. It helps with muscle relaxation, which is particularly helpful when you’re feeling sore and strained.

Note: The most common side effect is upset stomach, which can be prevented by taking magnesium glycinate or magnesium L-threonate.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is vital for bone and muscle function. It also may have certain anti-inflammatory effects. As a result, many take it in supplement form to relieve menopausal joint pain.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Although there is evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain, studies focusing specifically on joint and muscle pain are emerging — in other words, we don’t know for certain yet that it helps, but there aren’t any downsides to trying it. If you do, consider topical CBD, which has a more direct, anti-inflammatory effect on the specific, localized part of the body, i.e. knees or hip.

Our preferred brands are PlusCBD, Lazarus Naturals, and NED because they’re transparent about the sourcing and have a Certificate of Analysis (COA) proving they participate in third-party laboratory testing.

Note that products containing full-spectrum hemp extract MAY show up on drug tests. Broad-spectrum hemp, however, won’t.

Other

Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can also be used to manage pain.


Prescription

Hormonal

Studies indicate that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can provide a modest degree of musculoskeletal pain relief and prevent new aches and pains from starting. So women who take HRT for other symptoms of menopause like hot flashes may feel some benefit.

To learn more about the benefits, risks, and types of HRT available, refer to our complete guide.


We’re always keeping an eye out on emerging research and the latest clinical studies. Subscribe to our weekly Elektra Digest for the latest, science-based info direct to your inbox. Something work well for you that’s not listed here? We want to hear it! Shoot us a note at [email protected] (We’re human, promise.)


Disclaimer: This information is for general educational purposes, and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem.

As with anything you put into your body, taking dietary supplements can also involve health risks. You should consult a medical professional before taking supplements and inform your doctor about any supplements, as well as any medications you already take, since there may be interactions.

References

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Hot flashes SYMPTOM
Hot flashes
Mood changes SYMPTOM
Mood changes
Weight gain SYMPTOM
Weight gain

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