Scoliosis is a sideward curvature of the spine with rotation measured over ten degrees (cobbangle). Scoliosis is not just a teenage issue. Menopause can also play havoc with our spines.
The perimenopause brings with it many physical symptoms. As your oestrogen levels drop, you stop menstruating, and you may experience mood shifts, dry skin or changes in weight. While these signs vary for each of us, a common complaint among those going through menopause is leg pain and muscle tension.
Experts have found that low oestrogen levels result in musculoskeletal aches and pains during menopause. This explains why joint pain affects roughly 40% of women (1) in their late 40s and 50s in the UK.
As an essential hormone, oestrogen contributes to several body functions. Changes to its quantity inside the body can therefore have ripple effects on other health areas.
Aside from the reproductive system, the ebbs and flows of oestrogen affect the following body parts:
Since the body functions as a single unit, even minor hormone imbalances can bring about adverse outcomes in other health domains, such as muscle tension, leading to leg pain.
So the main cause of leg and muscle tension during menopause is the decreasing level of oestrogen.
Inadequate oestrogen can trigger, exacerbate or cause many health problems. Let’s take a closer look at what these issues are and how we can reduce these pains and aches.
Many of us experience pain, swelling and inflammation in leg joints during menopause. This can be due to several factors, like osteoarthritis (OA). The fall in oestrogen may provoke an onset or accelerate the appearance of OA symptoms.
As oestrogen is an anti-inflammatory hormone, low amounts in the body can make you susceptible to inflammation, such as in the leg joints.
Your legs may get tired after an hour of walking, which is perfectly normal. However, if you feel you must drag and forcibly lift them to take a step, it could indicate heavy leg syndrome. This disorder is associated with varicose and restless legs syndrome, characterised by weighty, stiff and tired legs.
An imbalanced oestrogen can decrease blood circulation to your legs, exacerbating symptoms of varicose, heavy legs and restless legs syndrome.
Women are two times more likely (2) to have RLS than men, partly due to plunging hormone levels. RLS is the throbbing, aching and crawling feeling in the legs that often happens when resting. It's considered an impairment in the brain as it fails to process signals of movement.
Menopause worsens the symptoms of RLS. Your legs can appear swollen, bumpy, sore and bluish due to inadequate circulation. You feel tingling and unpleasant sensations that can disrupt your sleep.
In specific cases, leg pain and muscle tension can stem from poor diet. As you age, the body needs vitamins and minerals, especially during menopause. The food you consume supplies the body with the nutritional benefits required for internal processes, such as blood circulation.
If you eat salty and processed foods, the blood will carry no nutrients as it circulates throughout the body. Meanwhile, consuming fruits and vegetables can boost vein health and help fight inflammation.
In the UK, women at 51 years old (3) reach a point in life where health complications due to ageing may appear.
Fortunately, several options are available to soothe pain associated with menopause. From natural remedies to therapy, you can choose and explore what works most effectively for you.
Ice packs are the easiest and most readily available remedy for leg pain and body aches. Ice helps soothe swelling and inflammation in painful joint areas. To use it as a home treatment, get a block of ice and place it in a sealable bag. Wrap it in a damp towel and apply to the affected area.
Besides the traditional ice packs, you may find some made of gel. It has dual functions — for cold and hot therapy. Freezing it for several minutes will transform it into a cold pack, and heating it in the microwave for a few seconds will turn it into a hot pack.
Berries, tomatoes, vegetables and other foods with anti-inflammatory or phytoestrogens benefits can help regulate oestrogen. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances in plants and have potent anti-inflammation power. They have the same chemical structure as oestrogen, although they function differently. They also help boost oestrogen and improve menopausal symptoms.
Some food selections are soybean products, vitamin C-rich fruits, herbs and spices. Wine, coffee and tea are beverages with these compounds.
Blood is made up mostly of water, which means being dehydrated can impede blood circulation to the rest of the body. Consequently, you may experience leg aches, pain and other menopause-related symptoms.
Drink eight big glasses of water (4) or hydrate with fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, oranges and cucumbers. Proper hydration can halt menopause symptoms, encourage good blood flow and make your skin soft and supple.
Maintaining a healthy body mass index can help minimise leg pain linked to poor circulation. Since being overweight stresses your legs to support the body's integrity while standing - changing your lifestyle will be a natural pain remedy.
Engage in physical activity and adjust your diet to shed unwanted fats. You may also combine a healthy lifestyle with other methods, such as ice packs or taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
If you have RLS and menopause aggravates the symptoms, supplementation and herbal remedies might make you feel better. Although it is unclear why this syndrome happens in women in menopause or perimenopause, it's still considered a fundamental cause of worsening leg pain.
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as folate, vitamin B12 and magnesium, are risk factors for developing RLS. The body needs these things to produce hormones. Without enough of them, hormone production is affected.
Experts assume that dropping oestrogen levels is due to collagen loss, which happens as you're nearing retirement. Taking a nutritional approach to replenishing your collagen can help overcome pain during menopause.
Embrace a vein-healthy diet and include foods rich in omega-3, vitamin C and hydrolyzed collagen peptides — all of these promote collagen production. Similarly, you should avoid foods that clog your veins, such as sugary beverages, alcohol and fatty foods.
Good diet decisions can minimise swollen and painful legs and improve overall well-being. You can strengthen the blood vessels with the food you eat to support normal blood flow.
Therapy has a high effectiveness rate for relieving menopausal leg pains. The NHS recommends hormone therapy (6) as the primary treatment for menopausal symptoms. What it does is it normalises the levels of oestrogen in the body to relieve you from bothersome pain problems.
Oestrogen replacement therapy comes in many forms — patches, sprays, gels or tablets. You can choose which HRT forms you want or follow the doctor's recommendation. Most take tablets. Unless you have problems swallowing, they’re the best option. But it comes with a minor risk of blood clots. If you're concerned about this, talk to your doctor about patches, gels or sprays.
During menopause, you become more susceptible to stress. Cortisol is the hormone the body releases when under pressure to control your stress response. Oestrogen helps regulate cortisol, which means insufficient oestrogen can destabilise cortisol levels. As a result, the body won't be as effective in coping with stress.
Moreover, stress can also magnify perimenopause symptoms. In research, 80% of women (7) ranked stress at work and stressful events as their top two triggers. Others include caffeine, alcohol and sugar.
Stress can aggravate pain in the legs and cause a myriad of other body discomforts. Menopausal itself is already a stressful period, but the decline in oestrogen further leads to sleep problems and hot flashes.
Adopt effective methods to regulate stress and maintain your calm under pressure situations. Here are some ideas:
Seek medical help: When you're in menopause and experience pain problems, you don’t know the cause of, consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. They can devise a personalised treatment plan for you.
RELATED: 6 top tips for self care in midlife
Leg pain and muscle tension are expected during menopause as the body changes thanks to that drop in oestrogen.
Thankfully, there are multiple methods to save yourself from pain, including changing your lifestyle, eating clean, learning how to manage stress and hormone therapy. This time of life can be challenging, but it's a call for you to take extra care of yourself.
(1) My Menopause Centre (2021). Menopause and joint pain. https://www.mymenopausecentre.com/symptoms/joint-pain/
(2) NIH (2020). Why Are Women Prone to Restless Legs Syndrome?. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6981604/
(3) The Latte Lounge. What is Menopause?. https://www.lattelounge.co.uk/menopause/what-is-menopause/
(4) The Latte Lounge (2017). 5 Super Easy Ways To Take Care of Yourself!. https://www.lattelounge.co.uk/5-super-easy-ways-to-take-care-of-yourself/
(5) NYSI. What Is a Back Spasm?.https://www.nyspine.com/blog/back-spasms-what-they-mean-and-how-to-handle-them/
(6) U.K. Parliament. Menopause and the workplace. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/report.html
(7) H.R. News (2022). Stress at work no.1 trigger of perimenopause symptoms in the UK.https://hrnews.co.uk/stress-at-work-no-1-trigger-of-perimenopause-symptoms-in-the-uk/
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