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Could menopause be causing your musculoskeletal symptoms?

Headaches? Joint or muscle pain? Pins and needles? Could it be menopause and how do you know?

1. Headaches

We often see patients who suffer with headaches and migraines in clinic. There are more than 150 types of headaches and you may suffer with more than one type. Different types of headaches can have different underlying causes, one of which is hormones. Half of women who report headaches notice that they seem to coincide with their periods and menstrual migraines can be crippling.

For some women, menstrual headaches can reduce and disappear as they approach menopause. For others, unfortunately, the hormone disruption and imbalance associated with the perimenopause and menopause can make headaches more severe. Some women will start to suffer with hormone-related headaches and migraines for the first time as a result of estrogen withdrawal (which comes with the menopause)

If you suffer with headaches or migraines, particularly if they seem to be getting more frequent or severe, it’s a good idea to start keeping a headache diary. This is a good way to start to notice any patterns or triggers, and is really useful to share with your GP or healthcare professional.

There are a variety of changes you might try making to see if your headaches improve:

  • Eating a balanced diet which is low in highly-processed inflammatory foods, and cutting back on caffeine, alcohol and carbonated drinks
  • Increased exercise including stretching (yoga or pilates are great) and gentle cardio activity (dog walking is perfect)
  • Certain nutritional daily supplements have been shown to reduce the frequency of headaches including melatonin, vitamins B6, B9 and B12, vitamin E and vitamin C.
  • Cognitive therapies like CBT can help us to deal with the stressors of pain, lessening the impact of menopause headaches on our daily lives.

If you’ve tried some of these strategies and are still struggling with headaches we recommend that you speak to your GP or a practitioner who specialises in headaches. If you’re wondering whether menopause could be a factor do specifically mention this because, unfortunately, not all healthcare professionals are as knowledgeable about this as they should be. At Core, our osteopath Katie specialises in treating headaches and can help you identify which type of headaches you are suffering with. In addition to giving you self-care advice Katie can offer very gentle and effective treatment which typically targets your upper body (neck, shoulders and head) with the goal of calming the tension which typically triggers headaches and migraines.

2. Joint issues

It’s common to experience aching joints as we get older, especially if we are sedentary or overdo it. But, for many women, a flare up in joint symptoms can be associated to menopause; joint pain, decreased mobility and reduced flexibility are common. Hips and knees are particularly common areas for problems, and can be painful and limiting. 

In many cases menopause is not the only factor causing joint problems, but unless it is identified and treated, it might continue to give you problems. The menopause can also result in additional symptoms like weight gain, which can place added strain on our joints.

As with most menopausal symptoms, hormone changes are mainly to blame (estrogen helps maintain our joint fluid levels). Keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of water and keeping active are two of best things you can do to reduce menopause-related joint pain. Taking a good quality omega supplement and eating omega-rich foods (like oily fish, soya, or flax seeds) can really help reduce joint inflammation.

If you are still struggling with joint pain again we recommend that you consult an expert and mention menopause in your consultation. It’s important to know whether there are any other underlying or contributing issues and not to just assume that your joint pain is due to menopause or getting older.

3. Muscle tension and pain

Muscle tightness and discomfort can come about for various reasons. Our muscles work in conjunction with our joints to move and hold our body, so it stands to reason that if our joints are struggling our muscles are having to work harder. There’s a clear link between our minds and our bodies and so it’s likely that if you’re anxious or struggling with your mental health (very common in menopause) this will show up in the form of tighter muscles. The neck and shoulders are common places to experience tension and discomfort and also connected to headaches.

Learning some relaxation techniques like mindfulness, breathing techniques or meditation can help ease tension in body and mind.

Massage therapy is a wonderful hands on technique to help you relax and work out stubborn muscular knots and tension.

4. Pins and needles

If you’re feeling a spot of tingling in your body (and not just because you’ve been lying or sitting on your arm or leg for an extended period of time) again, this can be related to menopause.

Fluctuating estrogen levels can affect our our central nervous system, which can in turn lead to our nerves behaving erratically! One of the symptoms this can cause is tingling or numbness – typically in our hands, feet, arms and legs. Usually these symptoms are benign if unpleasant. Incorporating some stretching exercises into your daily routine can help with blood flow, and an epsom salt bath can help with nerve function.

However, pins and needles can also be a sign of other conditions, sometimes serious, so if this symptom persists you should seek expert advice to rule out any other causes and help you manage the symptom.

5. Osteoporosis.

Hormonal changes during the menopause can also lead to a reduction in bone density, known as osteoporosis. Osteoporosis makes you more vulnerable to breaks and fractures, can cause back pain, and can cause you to lose height or develop a stopped pose.

Supplementing with calcium and eating a healthy, balanced diet along with weight-bearing exercise can all be protective, but, again getting professional opinion is always recommended.

Treatment options

Women’s individual experience of perimenopause and menopause is very variable and you may have some or none of these symptoms. These symptoms can also be associated to a variety of other conditions, or may be due to a combination of menopause and other issues. Following the self-care advice recommended may help to alleviate these problems but, if you are still suffering, especially if you are experiencing any of the other common symptoms of menopause, consulting your GP is highly recommended.

Unfortunately, the level of awareness and education around menopause amongst GPs and healthcare professionals is variable, so it really pays to educate yourself. There are some great online resources like the balance app which includes a useful symptom tracker.

The team at Core are experts in managing many conditions which can be associated with these types of symptoms and we can help you to work out whether, and how much of a factor, menopause is in explaining your symptoms. We can also help you to alleviate menopausal symptoms in combination with any prescription (e.g. HRT) or other treatment options suggested by your GP.

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