Menopause and Joint Pain: Causes and How to Ease It

Last updated 12.14.2023 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 10 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


According to research, 51–59% of menopausal women suffer from joint pain, joint stiffness, or backache. 

In fact, this type of musculoskeletal complaint is one of the most widespread symptoms of menopause. Yet unlike hot flashes and night sweats, this unpleasant side effect isn’t often discussed. 

But millions of women around the world suffer with joint pain, and for many of us, it can be debilitating. So, understanding what causes it, and how to find relief, is essential.

I personally suffer with aches and pains in my shoulder, and for me, the problem is usually at its worst first thing in the morning. But before I got my pain under control, my aching joints were affecting me at all hours of the day. Exercise became more difficult, and the pain would sometimes keep me up at night, causing me to lose sleep. 

Soon, my condition was beginning to restrict my activities throughout the day, too. And as a busy emergency room doctor, I couldn’t afford to ignore the problem. So, I began searching for ways to ease the pain, and thankfully, it’s now much more manageable. 

So, what causes discomfort in the joints, and how can you find relief?

In this post, I’ll examine why so many women suffer from joint pain during menopause. Then, I’ll share some of the best methods to ease the symptoms so that you can get back to feeling like your old self.

Menopause and Joint Pain: What’s the Connection?

Joint pain is a normal and natural part of the aging process for both women and men. In fact, more than half of all people over the age of 65 report having some type of joint pain.

Osteoarthritis is a common cause, and the condition is more likely to occur in women than in men.

But why does joint pain seem to show up for so many women during menopause? Is it just a coincidence? Or is there a link?

When women enter perimenopause, their estrogen levels begin to taper off. This reduction in estrogen is what causes many of the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, and loss of libido. But a decline in estrogen also results in a decline in bone density.

This is why so many women over 50 suffer from osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak and brittle bones.

But according to recent research, lower levels of estrogen also have an impact on muscle and tendon strength. So, women going through menopause are more likely to be injured while playing sports and working out. Plus, it also takes longer for them to recover.

Another way estrogen affects the joints is by keeping them lubricated and decreasing inflammation. So, when estrogen levels fall, we no longer reap these joint-friendly benefits, and pain and stiffness are more likely to occur.

Science is only just beginning to understand the links between estrogen and joint health. But from what we know so far, the evidence is clear. As estrogen levels dip during menopause, we are more likely to suffer joint pain, stiffness, inflammation, and yes, even full-blown osteoarthritis.

Is It Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is more common in women than in men, and it’s more likely to begin after the age of 50.

As we discussed above, a drop in estrogen can put menopausal women at an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. But just because you have some pain and stiffness, it doesn’t automatically mean you have the condition. To get an accurate diagnosis, visit your doctor or healthcare provider.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis?

The symptoms of osteoarthritis tend to appear and disappear, but in some more serious cases, it can be constant. The severity of pain is directly impacted by your activity levels. Some people even notice a difference in their symptoms depending on the weather.

Here are the most common symptoms to look out for:

  • Pain and stiffness in the joints, particularly in the hips, knees, spine, and hands
  • Tenderness, warmth, and redness of the skin around the joints
  • Swelling
  • Limited or reduced range of movement

How to Ease Menopause-Related Joint Pain

How to Ease Menopause-Related Joint Pain

I know just how debilitating menopause related joint pain can be. But thankfully, I’ve discovered many different ways to find relief. Here are some expert-recommended tips and tricks to reduce inflammation, regain flexibility, and ease pain.

Keep Moving

If you are feeling achy and sore, you might not feel like jumping into a workout. But keeping your body moving is the best way to retain flexibility and movement in your joints.

Always perform a thorough warm-up and warm-down. If you notice pain during exercise, stick to light load-bearing, non-impact activities such as swimming and cycling or yoga and pilates.

Yoga has been extremely beneficial for my own joint pain, which is mainly located in my shoulders. By using targeted stretches and poses, I’ve managed to increase my flexibility and range of motion in my shoulders. This allows me less pain, and greater freedom of movement throughout the day.

Strengthening Exercises

Regular strengthening exercises are one of the most proactive ways to reduce pain in your joints in the long term.

After struggling for several months with shoulder pain, I visited a physiotherapist who gave me a thorough assessment. She guided me through various exercises which are designed to build strength and reduce pain in my problem area.

However, if visiting a physiotherapist in person isn’t an option for you, you can still benefit from this type of treatment. There are countless videos online demonstrating physiotherapy movements and techniques that you can practice yourself at home.

Hot and Cold

Cooling or heating the joints can soothe pain and reduce inflammation. 

Cold therapies, such as ice packs or cooling gels and sprays, work particularly well for swollen joints. The cold temperature constricts the blood vessels and minimizes the blood flow to the area.

Heat therapies, such as a hot water bottle, sauna, or a hot bath or shower, can loosen and relieve stiff joints and muscles. They work in the opposite way by increasing blood flow to the area. This draws in essential nutrients and oxygen.

Diet

What we eat has a huge impact on every aspect of our health, including joint pain. Certain inflammatory foods can intensify the pain and make it worse, whereas others can provide relief.

Eliminate or cut back on sugar and refined carbs, as well as pre-packaged processed foods. You might also want to try cutting out dairy, as it can trigger inflammation in some people, making joint pain worse.

Instead, focus on eating real whole foods that lower inflammation and support bone and joint health.

Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon are packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that omega 3s can reduce inflammation and help ease joint pain and stiffness. Fish is also packed with protein which your muscles need for growth and repair. And the stronger your muscles are, the more supported your joints will be.

Other powerful anti-inflammatory foods to add to your diet include:

  • avocado
  • berries
  • broccoli
  • green tea
  • mushrooms
  • grapes
  • dark chocolate
  • tomatoes
  • cherries
  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • cinnamon
  • cayenne pepper
  • black pepper
  • garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is crucial for your overall health, but this is especially important during menopause. Hot flashes and night sweats can deplete your body of vital fluids, leaving you dehydrated.

The cartilage around your joints is made up of 80% water. When there’s not enough water in the body to keep the cartilage working as it should, it can cause serious problems in the long run.

Chronic dehydration can also lead to a build-up of uric acid. If left unchecked, tiny crystals known as monosodium urate can form around the joints and tendons. This painful condition is known as gout.

Weight Loss

Weight gain is a common symptom of menopause. But unfortunately, being overweight or obese puts added strain on your joints, particularly your knees, hips, and ankles.

However, losing just a few pounds can make a big difference. So, if you have a high BMI, consider taking steps to trim down a little and see if your mobility and pain improve.

Magnesium

Magnesium helps to prevent a harmful build-up of calcium in your bones and joints. So, if you’re taking calcium supplements to stave off osteoporosis, it’s especially important to boost your body’s supply of magnesium.

Magnesium can also lower inflammation, relax tired muscles, and decrease the body’s sensitivity to pain.

Magnesium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts. I try to incorporate these foods into my diet as much as possible, but I also boost my magnesium levels with an over the counter daily supplement.

Medication

If treating joint pain the natural way isn’t working, you may want to speak to your doctor about pharmaceutical pain relief.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen can help to relieve mild to moderate joint pain.

If the pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe a prescription painkiller that works more effectively. However, these types of medication are not meant to be taken long-term.

Corticosteroid injections are another option for more severe cases of joint pain. The treatment can dramatically reduce inflammation and significantly relieve pain for up to 6 months at a time.

FAQs

Q. What joints are affected by menopause joint pain?

Any joint in any part of your body can be affected. The most common areas women notice pain are in the spine, knees, shoulders, elbows, neck, and hands.

Q. Can menopause cause back pain?

Yes, back pain is a common complaint among menopausal women. The spine is made up of vertebrae. These vertebrae are connected by multiple joints and ligaments, which allow movement and flexibility in your back.
But once estrogen begins to decrease during menopause, these joints can lose their lubrication and strength. This causes inflammation and pain, particularly in the lower back.

Q. How long does menopause-related joint pain last?

Many symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and mood swings, begin to taper off once a woman reaches menopause and her periods have stopped. But unfortunately, joint pain can sometimes last for much longer.
Everyone experiences menopause differently, and the outlook for joint pain depends on the underlying cause. Some women find relief once their hormonal imbalance settles down. Others develop long-term joint issues, such as osteoarthritis, which can last well into old age.

Conclusion

Joint pain can be one of the most debilitating menopause symptoms of all. Aching and stiff joints hold us back from doing the things we love and stop us from getting enough sleep at night. But thankfully, there are several ways to find relief.

If you’re suffering from joint pain, try the tips listed above. These natural solutions, including diet, exercise, and supplementation, could make a big difference. They certainly have for me.

That being said, if you’ve tried everything and you’re still suffering from menopause-related joint pain, visit your doctor. They can provide a proper diagnosis and devise a treatment plan that works for you.

References:

Author

  • Dr. Karen Pike

    Dr. Pike is a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. She received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and played collegiate soccer. She attended Georgetown University for medical school and performed her residency in emergency medicine at Stanford University. She was part of the first-ever, women-majority emergency medicine program in United States. Dr. Pike is also the primary medical consultant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a role she has held since the pilot episode when she partnered with Shonda Rhimes as the show’s original medical consultant. At her hospital, she was the second woman Chief of Staff. Today serves as the Director of the Emergency Department. Whether in leadership or direct patient care, her dedication to excellence in communication, quality, and collaboration is unwavering.