During menopause, some women notice that their legs begin to ache. Aching legs can happen at any time during the menopausal transition, but it’s particularly common during perimenopause (the build-up to menopause). That’s because, during this time, our hormones begin to shift dramatically. This can cause all kinds of physiological symptoms, including, for some women, aching legs.
Understanding the connection between this type of leg pain and menopause is essential in order to find a solution.
For many of my patients, the problem is often at its worst at night when lying down. Personally, my own leg pain tends to strike first thing in the morning when I get out of bed.
However, and whenever the problem affects you, aches and pains in the legs can interfere with your regular day-to-day activities and make life more difficult.
So, how can you get back to feeling like your own, pain-free self again?
In this post, I’ll answer this question. Plus, I’ll also go into more detail about the symptoms of aching legs and discuss some other possible causes of the problem.
But first, let’s take a moment to understand how and why menopause causes leg pain.
What Causes Aching Legs During Menopause?
Aches and pains become more common as we get older. So much so that more than 50%  of people aged 65 and over complain of some joint pain and stiffness somewhere in the body.
The legs are a common place for this type of pain to occur. I frequently see patients, both women and men, who complain of localised pain in the legs. After all, we spend much of our lives on our feet, with the muscles and joints in our hips, knees, and ankles taking most of our weight. So, it’s no surprise that, eventually, we begin to experience aching legs.
But for us women, it’s not just regular wear and tear that’s to blame. A reduction of estrogen during menopause can also play a significant role.
At one time in my life, I was a keen runner, and I’d spend at least 45 minutes a day blowing off the cobwebs on my local hiking trail. But as I transitioned into menopause, I noticed that my hips and knees were starting to complain more than they ever had before; so much so, that I was having pain simply walking around during the day.
So, rather than continue to do damage to my estrogen-deprived joints, I decided to take up swimming instead. This low impact sport has allowed me to stay fit, healthy, and active, while avoiding any further damage in my legs.
But how exactly do our shifting hormones lead to leg pain and increased wear and tear? There are several potential reasons for this.
A decline in estrogen causes a decline in bone density, which can lead to a common condition called osteoporosis. Women with osteoporosis have weaker and more brittle bones, meaning they are more prone to fractures.
Our muscle and tendon strength can also decline during menopause, making injury during exercise much more likely. For this reason, it can also take significantly longer to recover from a strenuous hike or a workout in the gym, and many women notice that pain and stiffness last for several days afterwards.
But while these factors can all contribute to aching legs in menopause, perhaps the most common cause is a lack of joint lubrication. This leads to inflammation and pain.
Before menopause, ample levels of estrogen keep our joints well-lubricated. But when that estrogen falls away, lubrication can disappear, too. As a result, inflammation in the hips, knees, and ankles is common.
This can lead to osteoarthritis, a condition which, unsurprisingly, affects more women than men.
Other Causes of Aching Legs
As we’ve discovered, hormonal shifts during menopause can cause aching sensations in the legs. However, several other potential factors can contribute to these aches and pains, including:
- Magnesium deficiency
- Circulatory issues
- Incorrect posture
- Trapped nerves
- Varicose veins
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Blood clots
If you’re experiencing persistent pain in one or both of your legs, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. They can help to identify the root cause, rule out any underlying conditions, and find a treatment plan that works for you.
What Symptoms Accompany Aching Legs During Menopause?
Aching legs can sometimes be accompanied by additional symptoms, such as:
- Pain and stiffness in the joints, particularly in the hips, knees, and ankles.
- Redness, tenderness, and warmth of the skin surrounding the affected area.
- Swelling of the affected area.
- Limited range of movement.
Some women notice that their symptoms worsen at night, whereas others are affected mainly by aches and pains first thing in the morning or during the day.
When I first noticed my own leg pain, I kept a diary of my symptoms and the times they occurred. I recommend you do this too, as it will help you to recognise any patterns and assist your doctor in finding an accurate diagnosis.
How Can I Find Relief from Aching Legs During Menopause?
If you’re a woman going through menopause and you’re suffering from aching legs, the best course of action is to speak to your doctor.
But alongside proper medical treatment, there are several things that you can also try at home. Here are some simple interventions that have worked for me and my patients.
Exercise might be the last thing you want to do when leg pain and stiffness strikes. But keeping your body moving can help to reduce pain and maintain your full range of movement.
However, it’s important to pick the right sort of exercise to avoid injury. Stretching is particularly beneficial, as are low-impact activities such as yoga, pilates, and my personal favorite, swimming.
Strengthening exercises can also help to minimise joint pain and make everyday activities, such as walking, sitting, or sleeping, more comfortable. There are plenty of strength training exercise routines available online. However, if possible, visit a physiotherapist for an in-person appointment. They will give you a tailor-made exercise plan that, with dedication, can help to reduce leg pain or even get rid of it completely.
2. Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Inflammatory foods, such as sugar, refined carbs, and trans fats, all trigger inflammation, leading to aching and stiffness in the legs. But by cutting these foods out and eating a diet rich in fresh vegetables and high-quality protein, you can undo some of the damage already done and reduce inflammation and pain.
Omega 3s found in oily fish like sardines and mackerel are particularly beneficial for reducing pain and stiffness in the limbs. Not only do these foods help lower inflammation on a molecular level, but they’re also packed with protein to help build stronger muscles.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration can cause unpleasant symptoms, including pain and stiffness in the joints and muscles. This is partly due to the cartilage that surrounds your joints. Without sufficient water, this cartilage can become weak and damaged, leading to long-term chronic pain.
So, be sure to drink plenty of water. Current guidelines suggest women should drink at least 9 cups of water daily.
4. Hot and Cold Therapy
Both hot and cold therapy can help to reduce aches, pains, and stiffness in the muscles and joints of the leg.
Cold therapy works by constricting the blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the affected area. Heat therapy works oppositely by dilating the blood vessels and allowing more blood flow. Both can help to significantly soothe pain and inflammation in the legs.
When I was suffering from leg pain in the mornings, I found that taking a hot bath before work really helped to relieve the pain, and feel more comfortable throughout the day.
5. Take Magnesium
I regularly see patients who are lacking in magnesium, and as a result, they’ve been suffering unnecessary pain.
So, it’s important to make sure that your body has an adequate supply of this vital nutrient to stay strong and pain-free.
Foods that contain magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds. However, many women find it difficult to get the required levels they need through diet alone. So, taking a high-quality daily magnesium supplement can help.
6. Lose Weight
Women who carry extra weight tend to have more severe menopause symptoms than those who don’t. This includes pain and stiffness in the legs.
Being overweight or obese also puts additional strain on the joints in the legs, particularly the hips and knees. So, losing a few lbs can make a big difference to your mobility and pain levels.
7. Over-the-Counter Medication
If diet and lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to relieve the discomfort of aching legs during menopause. In that case, you might want to try over-the-counter pain relief such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
These medicines can temporarily relieve the pain and discomfort of aching legs. However, they come with potential side effects and are not designed to be used as a long-term solution.
The answer depends on the root cause of the pain.
Some women find relief once they enter post-menopause and their hormones settle down. However, for many people, including those with osteoarthritis, aching legs are an ongoing problem that stays with them after their menopausal transition is complete.
Potentially, yes. However, HRT isn’t usually prescribed exclusively for leg pain. That’s because there are many different potential causes for aching legs during menopause, and simply correcting the hormonal imbalance may not be enough to fix the issue.
Plus, HRT carries the risk of potentially serious side effects, so it’s not suitable for everyone.
The only way to determine the root cause of aching legs with certainty is to speak to your doctor. There are several conditions with overlapping symptoms, and without proper assessment, there’s no way to know what is causing your aching legs.
So, if you’re suffering, book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Aching legs during menopause is uncomfortable at best and downright debilitating at its worst. This type of pain can keep you up at night and stop you from doing the things you love during the day.
Some women, myself included, are even forced to give up certain types of exercise, such as running, to avoid further damage to their muscles and joints.
But thankfully, there are some ways to find relief. Making simple lifestyle changes can dramatically improve the pain of aching legs during menopause.
So, if you’ve been suffering from pain and stiffness, try the suggestions in this post and see how they work for you.