Menopause and Lower Back Pain: Are They Connected?

Last updated 12.04.2023 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 13 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.


Lower back pain affects more than 600 million people around the globe each year. And while there are a myriad of reasons people develop pain in this region, one potential cause is menopause. 

This type of back pain can cause serious problems and make it difficult to carry out daily activities. So, identifying the root cause of the problem and taking steps to find relief is essential. 

Like many other women, I first began noticing lower back pain during perimenopause (the build up to menopause.) Yet while I still experience occasional twinges in my lower back, I’ve managed to reduce my symptoms significantly over the past few years. 

Are you also in the same situation, and looking for solutions to ease your pain? If so, this post is for you. Below, I’ll explain how menopause can lead to lower back pain. I’ll also discuss some other potential causes for the condition, and share some tried and tested ways to reduce your pain so you can go through menopause feeling your best.

Is There a Connection Between Lower Back Pain and Menopause?

Yes. Research shows that women are significantly more likely to suffer from chronic lower back pain as they enter this period of life.

In fact, more than 60% of menopausal women report some kind of lumbar spine pain, a higher percentage than in any other age group or demographic.

However, a lot of us have other menopause symptoms to contend with, and we don’t connect the dots between our hormones and our lower back pain. Instead, we suffer in silence, not realizing that there are ways to find relief.

Why Does Menopause Cause Lower Back Pain?

There are several reasons why women find themselves at an increased risk of lower back pain during and after menopause. However, the most significant reason is a drop in estrogen.

The Important Role of Estrogen

Estrogen is one of the hormones responsible for regulating our menstrual cycles, but it has many other crucial functions too. One of those functions is to maintain the health of our bones.

Estrogen boosts the activity of cells called osteoblasts. Osteoblasts promote bone growth, but without enough estrogen, they can’t function as they should.

Estrogen also prevents bone degeneration and keeps the collagen tissues in our spinal discs healthy and strong. But when we experience a sharp dip in estrogen during perimenopause and menopause, these bone-boosting benefits disappear.

As a result, many women are left with joint pain and stiffness, particularly in the lumbar region of the spine.

Lowered estrogen levels can also cause a condition called osteoporosis, which dramatically increases the risk of bone injuries and fractures.

Vitamin D deficiency

Research suggests that around 35% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency, and to make matters worse, menopause can cause a further decline in vitamin D, leaving many women with dangerously low levels of this essential nutrient.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in many bodily processes, including immune function and metabolism. But it also reduces inflammation and contributes to the health of our bones, muscles, and nerves.

So, when we are deficient in vitamin D, it’s easy to see how lower back problems can arise.

That’s why I recommend all women supplement their vitamin D intake, particularly if they live in a climate with long winters and little sun exposure. 

Other Causes of Lower Back Pain

A dip in estrogen and vitamin D are the main culprits behind lower back pain in women in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. However, several other factors can cause pain in the lumbar region and make the problem worse, including:

  • Changes to posture
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Incorrect exercise techniques
  • Kidney stones or infections
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Weight gain

What Are the Symptoms of Lower Back Pain During Menopause?

Menopause-related lower back pain can be mild or severe. It can come and go at various times of the day, or it can be chronic. Most women with lower back pain will experience one or more of the following symptoms.

  • A dull ache
  • Sharp, sudden pain
  • Stinging or burning
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain in the hips and pelvis
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Increased pain after prolonged periods of sitting or lying down
  • Relief in pain when changing positions
  • Increased pain first thing in the morning
  • Pain that travels from the lumbar region through the hips, buttocks, legs, and feet

The symptoms above are common, and they most likely indicate an issue with muscles, bones, and the discs of the spine. That being said, in rare instances, lower back pain can be a sign of a more serious, potentially life-threatening condition.

If you experience lower back pain alongside any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

How to Find Relief From Lower Back Pain During Menopause

How to Find Relief From Lower Back Pain During Menopause

The first step to finding relief from lower back pain is to contact your doctor or health care provider. They can evaluate your symptoms and carry out certain tests to determine the underlying cause of your pain. Once you’ve received an accurate diagnosis, your doctor can recommend a treatment plan that works for you.

Pain relief medication is the most commonly used intervention for treating both acute and chronic back pain. Most doctors recommend over-the-counter options such as ibuprofen. However, in severe cases, they may prescribe higher-strength painkillers.

Pain relief medication can provide well-needed relief. It certainly did for me when I first began experiencing the symptoms of lower back pain. 

That being said, due to the risk of side effects, I knew that I couldn’t rely on pain relief medication forever. So, I decided to learn how to manage my pain in other ways. 

This led me to discover a variety of therapies, lifestyle changes and supplements which, together, made a huge difference in my symptoms. 

Here are the most useful and effective interventions I’ve found.

Hot and Cold Therapy

Hot and/or cold compresses can help reduce pain and stiffness in all areas of the body, including the knees, shoulders, hips, and lower back.

Hot therapy, known as thermotherapy, helps to enlarge the blood vessels and increase blood flow to the muscles. This delivers vital nutrients to the affected area while also helping to remove toxins and relax any tension.

Plus, heat can stimulate the sensory receptors in the skin, blocking pain signals before they reach the brain.

The best way to utilize heat therapy is by applying a hot water bottle or heat pack to the affected area for an extended period. I also like to soak in a hot bath, and visit the sauna at my local gym.

Cold therapy, known as cryotherapy, works oppositely to thermotherapy, shrinking the blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the affected area. This helps to bring down swelling and inflammation. Cold also has a direct pain-killing effect by numbing the nerve endings and slowing down nerve impulses.

Applying an ice pack, cold compress, or even a bag of frozen peas are all popular methods of utilizing the pain-relieving benefits of cryotherapy.

Exercise

If you’re suffering from lower back pain, you might not feel like moving much. But the longer you sit still, the worse your back pain can become.

Avoiding periods of inactivity and practicing low-impact exercises can help to increase your range of motion and keep the muscles in your lower back strong. And the stronger your muscles, the more your spine is supported.

Stretching is also an important component in managing lower back pain. Not only can it help to relieve preexisting pain, but it can also prevent future flare-ups too.

I’m a fan of yoga poses, such as cat-cow, sphinx, cobra, and child’s pose. When my pain was at its worst, these poses could often provide gentle and immediate relief. Yoga also helped me to stay flexible, and strengthen the muscles supporting my spine, which made a huge difference in the long term.

Other beneficial low-impact exercises that can help improve strength and relieve pain are swimming and core strength exercises, such as those practiced in pilates.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy works by reducing muscle tension, boosting blood circulation, and improving flexibility and range of motion. It can also stimulate the release of endorphins, a type of peptide produced in the body that acts as a natural painkiller.

If you’re thinking of giving massage therapy a try, it’s best to seek out a licensed professional, such as a physiotherapist or a sports masseuse. They can identify your issues and tailor the treatment plan to your specific needs.

But if seeing a professional is out of your budget, don’t worry. You can also utilize self-massage techniques, such as using your fingertips to apply pressure to the muscles in your lower back. Or, try lying on the floor with a foam roller or a tennis ball under your lower back. Gently move your body up and down and side to side to loosen up the muscles and relieve tension.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an effective tool for a variety of musculoskeletal conditions, and it’s been shown to be particularly effective for the relief of lower back pain. 

This complementary treatment works by inserting fine needles into various acupoints around the body. Some people find minor relief from just one session, however, for the best results, acupuncture should be performed over a series of sessions.

After six visits to my acupuncturist, I had around a 60% reduction in my own lower back pain, and the positive effects of the treatment remained for several months afterwards.

Physical Therapy

Finding a good physical therapist was the single most effective intervention I tried on my mission to relieve my lower back pain. 

A good physio will provide a full assessment of your symptoms, taking note of your medical history and any other preexisting conditions you might have. 

They will then prescribe an exercise regime designed to strengthen your core muscles in your abdomen, back, and pelvis. As these muscles grow stronger, your spine will become more supported, and the pain should decrease.

Your physio may also provide hands-on techniques such as massage and mobilization (slow and gentle movements).

Change Your Mattress

We spend a significant portion of our lives lying in our beds asleep. So, the type of mattress we choose is extremely important. Sleeping on a sagging mattress or a mattress that is too soft can make lower back pain much worse. Plus, it can even cause lower back pain in otherwise healthy people.

So, if lower back pain has become an issue for you, it’s time to look at your mattress and consider upgrading to a new one. Most people find relief in a medium to firm mattress that supports the spine while also taking pressure off the hips and other joints.

Invest in a Back Brace

Back braces are commonly used after spinal surgery. However, they can also provide comfort and support and reduce pain in women with chronic menopause-related back pain.

A back brace helps to keep your spine correctly aligned, reducing the risk of twisting and pulling. It also aligns your spine and corrects poor posture, which can make back pain worse.

Consult a Chiropractor

A chiropractor is a specialist in musculoskeletal issues such as those that affect the lower back. Chiropractors use a range of adjustment techniques to improve joint mobility, realign the spine, and reduce pain.

In some cases, a single session can bring immediate relief. However, you may need repeated treatment over weeks or months to address the underlying cause of your lower back pain.

Consider Supplements

As we learned earlier in this post, vitamin D plays a huge role in keeping our bones and muscles healthy. And unfortunately, the majority of us don’t get enough of this vital nutrient.

So, supplementing with vitamin D has never been more important than it is during your menopausal years.

For the best results, I recommend a high-dose vitamin D supplement with added vitamin K2. K2 works alongside vitamin D to metabolize calcium and prevent it from depositing inside the arteries. This allows your body to use the bioavailable calcium to improve bone density.

Magnesium is another important nutrient that many people don’t get enough of. Magnesium helps to relieve muscle tension and reduce the severity and frequency of muscle spasms. So, supplementing with magnesium can help to reduce lower back pain in certain people.

FAQs

Can hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help with menopause-related back pain?

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help with all kinds of menopause symptoms, including lower back pain. It works by replacing declining estrogen and progesterone with synthetic versions of these hormones. 
Many women notice a reduction in lower back pain while taking HRT. However, this line of treatment isn’t for everyone. Recent research has shown that HRT increases the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, and stroke. 

Will lower back pain go away after menopause?

Many symptoms of menopause can taper off or disappear completely in the postmenopausal phase. But unfortunately, lower back pain is a symptom that tends to stick around. 
Bone loss and weakness are ongoing problems for many women, and without proper treatment, they tend to get worse, not better, over time. 
However, I have personally found a lot of relief using the interventions I’ve listed above, and many other women have reported the same improvements. So, if lower back pain is getting you down, don’t give up hope. With the right tools and support, you can see significant positive change.

Can menopause cause other musculoskeletal issues besides lower back pain?

Unfortunately, yes. A decline in bone density due to a lack of estrogen can cause issues in various parts of the body, not just in the lower back. Other areas that are commonly affected include the hips, shoulders, and knees.

Conclusion

Lower back pain is a common complaint among middle-aged women. That’s because a dip in estrogen has a knock-on effect on the health of your bones. This can lead to all kinds of musculoskeletal issues, including pain in the lumbar region of the spine. 

So, if you’re experiencing pain in this area, menopause could be to blame. 

There are several nonmedical therapies, lifestyle interventions, and supplements that can reduce your symptoms. However, the first step in finding relief from lower back pain is to speak to your doctor or health care provider. They can assess your symptoms, identify the underlying cause, and find 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.