An introduction to muscle pain and menopause
Muscle aches are often experienced during menopause and can range from a mild discomfort to chronic pain. While the natural ageing process is usually attributed to aches and pains, the hormonal changes your body is going through during the menopause can also cause your muscles to feel tender and sore.
These aches and pains are commonly experienced in the back, shoulders and neck and can also lead to tension headaches. Although the most common areas to ache are in the upper body, all over your body can hurt more at this time.
While it’s usually not the most distressing symptom, the discomfort and pain can impact your day, as well as disrupt your sleep, so understanding what causes it and how to ease it is important.
Why does the menopause cause muscle pain?
The hormonal imbalance as you approach menopause is the most common reason for muscle aches and pains. During peri-menopause your hormones begin to fluctuate radically before they fall and remain low as you go through menopause and afterwards. The imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone are the main cause here.
Firstly, oestrogen regulates the production of cortisol in the body. This is known as the ‘stress hormone’ and when oestrogen is low, your cortisol levels rise, which can cause you to become more stressed and anxious, two symptoms which are very common in the menopause. High levels of cortisol can then cause your muscles to tense up and become painful. Increased levels of cortisol in the body are also known to make you more sensitive to pain, causing you to feel muscle and body aches and pains more easily.
Falling oestrogen can also affect the uptake and utilisation of magnesium, and magnesium is vital for proper muscle function and muscle relaxation. Therefore, low magnesium can cause muscles aches and pains, muscle fatigue and muscle cramps.
Next, is progesterone. This hormone helps to keep your body nice and relaxed. As progesterone levels fluctuate and drop prior to and during menopause, you may experience more muscle tension and pain.
Hormonal and physical changes during the menopause can also make you more likely to gain weight and develop fat around the middle. This added weight can put more strain on both your muscles and joints, resulting in pain and discomfort.
Low iron levels in the body can also cause muscle pain. The pain results from a lack of oxygen in the muscles. You can ask your doctor to check your iron levels to rule this out.
While muscle pain can be attributed to the menopause, it is important to know that arthritis often appears around the same age as the menopause, so it is wise to get muscle pains, as well as any joint pains checked by your doctor.
What home remedies are there for muscle pain?
There are many lifestyle changes and self-help measures which can help to ease menopause muscle pain. These include:
Exercise. Regular but gentle exercise, such as walking, cycling or swimming can help to loosen muscle tension and lessen muscle pain. Exercise also releases feel-good endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers.
It can also improve your mood and the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress hormones in the body that cause your muscles to tense.
Stretching. Gently stretching your muscles can also help ease tension, stiffness and muscle pain. Mindful stretching, together with deep breathing, can also aid relaxation and reduce stress hormones in the body.
Magnesium. Low levels of magnesium in the body can cause muscle aches and muscle cramps. Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral so it’s important to make sure you include foods which are high in magnesium in your diet, such as nuts and seeds, dried fruit, dark leafy vegetables and pulses such as beans and lentils.
You can also take a magnesium supplement, either liquid magnesium or a magnesium citrate capsule – between 200 and 400mg a day.
Iron. Muscles aches can also be caused by low iron, so an iron tonic or supplement would also be worth trying. You could also try adding more iron-rich foods to your diet, such as red meat, eggs and dairy.
Diet. As well as eating magnesium and iron-rich foods, a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet can help relieve stress, anxiety and muscles tension.
Eating foods that are high in calcium and potassium can also help your muscles. Potassium, which can be found in avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach and bananas, can help with muscle relaxation, whilst calcium, which can be found in kale, broccoli, cheese, milk and almonds, helps promote muscle relaxation.
Heat. A warm shower or bath is great for soothing muscles as they are a natural muscle relaxer. A heat pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can help ease tension and relieve muscle pain.
Good Posture. This is really an important point but is often ignored. If your joints, ligaments and tendons are affected this can alter your whole posture, pulling on your muscles and causing both joint and muscle aches at the same time. This can happen to any group of muscles but mainly the back, shoulders and hips. Muscle changes in the shoulders can also trigger tension headaches or migraines.
There is also the theory that strained muscles in the back or a change of spinal alignment could lead to hot flushes, so if both of these symptoms started around the same time they may be connected.
Massage. A deep-tissue massage can help increase blood circulation, reduce toxin build-up and soothe muscle pain, tension and stiffness; it can also promote relaxation and reduce stress.
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Are there herbal remedies to help me?
Since muscle pain is commonly due to hormonal imbalance, a supplement which can naturally balance oestrogen such as soya isoflavones is ideal. Check out our Menopause Support supplement for more information on how soya isoflavones can help during menopause.
One herb which is known to be a good pain reliever is Arnica. Made from extracts of freshly harvested Arnica, Atrogel® Arnica gel can help to ease muscular aches, pains and stiffness. Research has found the Atrogel® is just as effective as a topical painkiller such as ibuprofen gel and has no interactions with any medicines you might be taking.
Other studies have found that herbal Arnica decreased pain measurements by 50% compared to 43% from using other medications. Arnica can also be used to manage bruises, strains and sprains.
Merfort I. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheikd 2003; 10 (suppl 1): 45-48.
Knusel O et al. AtrogMed-Gel bei rheumatischen Beschewerden am Bewegungsapparat. Sonderdruck Aus Ars Medici 13 2006: 1-3.
What about conventional medicines?
Over-the counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen can be used to provide short-term relief to mild or moderate muscle pain. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these over-the-counter pain relievers have no interactions with any medicines you might be taking.
If your pain is severe, and over-the-counter pain relievers, as well as home and herbal remedies are ineffective, it is important to consult your doctor.