The link between joint pain and menopause

Estrogen plays many roles in the body, including reducing inflammation and regulating fluid levels. So when estrogen levels begin to decline during perimenopause, or the years leading up to the end of your monthly period, it can result in increasingly stiff, achy, or painful joints. 

The joints that may be affected include:

  • Knees
  • Shoulders
  • Elbows
  • Hands/wrists
  • Neck

For many people, this new or worsening joint pain can seem unrelated at first, and your doctor may explore other diagnoses, such as fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis. Yet there is growing awareness that midlife joint pain is often correlated with the drop in estrogen that occurs before and after menopause.

Making matters worse, there may be coexisting menopausal symptoms — including sleep disruptions and mood changes — that can worsen joint pain. Poor sleep and a low or irritable mood can heighten your sensitivity to pain.  

Remedies for relief

Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which may provide relief for joint pain by increasing your estrogen levels. HRT has also shown to be effective in treating hot flashes (which can disturb sleep), insomnia, and mood disorders in menopausal women. 

Other potential treatments may include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • The prescription drug gabapentin (Neurontin), which interferes with pain reception
  • Ice/heat applications (such as ice packs and heating pads)
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnosis

Although it may sound counterintuitive, physical inactivity can also contribute to joint pain. That’s why it’s recommended to stay active with low-impact activities such as swimming, pilates, and yoga. Running on hard surfaces and other high-impact exercises is likely not a good fit if you’re experiencing joint pain, but talk to your doctor. Adding activity that improves muscle strength is a win for almost every perimenopause symptom — including joint pain!

Love going on walks and hitting the dance floor? You may find that a knee sleeve, which provides compression, can help keep an achy knee more comfortable during activity. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises, may also help with ongoing pain management.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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