Joint pain is a symptom that women commonly experience - about twice as commonly as men do. While it may be linked to aging and general wear-and-tear on the body, hormonal fluctuations during menopause can also cause or exacerbate joint soreness and pain. Both a deficiency of estrogen and an excess of cortisol - the stress hormone - can produce inflammation in the joints.
Because hormonal imbalance is the underlying cause, menopausal joint pain can easily be treated with many methods. Continue reading to learn about the three combinable approaches to managing joint pain.
Three Approaches to Treating Joint Pain
Women seeking to ease joint pain have three approaches to consider. These are categorized as: (1) Lifestyle Changes, (2) Alternative Medicine, and (3) Medications and Therapy.
In general, it is recommended that women start with the least risky and least invasive approach - lifestyle changes - before moving to the next tier. Medications and physical therapy are typically resorted to only in severe cases or when all other options have been exhausted.
1. Lifestyle Changes
The first tier of treatment poses virtually no risk, but it requires the most self-discipline. To relieve joint pain and lead a healthier lifestyle, making minor adjustments in daily habits is the first step. Other menopause symptoms may increase stress, which can in turn aggravate joint pain. Therefore, lifestyle changes are a holistic way to reduce all symptoms of menopause and lead a healthier life.
First, modifying one's diet may be necessary to enrich it with nutrients that help fight joint pain. Antioxidants like vitamin C and omega-3 fatty acids - found in berries and coldwater fish, respectively - are good for reducing pain and inflammation. In addition, calcium helps maintain healthy bones, which in turn reduces the risk of joint pain. Dairy products are rich in calcium, and for the lactose intolerant, alternatives like soymilk and fortified orange juice are available.
Although joint pain may discourage physical activity, regular exercise is necessary to keep joints in working order. Low-impact exercises are the best choice in order not to put too much pressure on the joints. Overall, exercise can keep joints flexible and provide other health benefits. It is best to talk to a doctor before beginning an exercise routine to see which activities are suitable.
Low-impact Exercises for Joint Pain
Finally, it is important to maintain healthy habits. Smoking tobacco can negatively impact bones and increase inflammation, so it should be avoided as much as possible. Using hot or cold compresses in 20-minute intervals can also help to ease pain. In addition, lowering stress and identifying effective ways to diffuse stressors can contribute to the reduction of inflammation.
Lifestyle changes are a healthy way to manage joint pain and improve wellness, but they can be hard to put into practice, and not all methods treat joint pain at the common source - hormonal imbalance. Fortunately, alternative medicines present an effective way to balance hormones. Keep reading to learn more about natural treatments for joint pain.
2. Alternative Medicine
This approach consists of various potential treatment methods. Though all of them are viable, herbal supplements are the most prominent, since they are easy to keep up with, less expensive compared to other alternative options, and they can also treat hormone imbalance directly.
Anti-inflammatory and Analgesic Herbs
- Chili peppers (capsaicin)
- Cat's claw
In terms of herbal supplements, two distinct types can be used to balance hormone levels: (1) phytoestrogenic and (2) hormone-regulating supplements.
1. Phytoestrogenic supplements - e.g., ginseng
These supplements are rich in phytoestrogens - plant-based compounds that work like estrogen in the body - so they can compensate for an estrogen deficiency. However, they should not be used for a prolonged time, since long-term use of these supplements can lower the body's ability to produce natural hormones, ultimately resulting in a decline. They are typically used for short-term symptom management.
2. Hormone-regulating supplements - e.g., Macafem
These supplements, instead of containing hormones, benefit the endocrine system by providing the hormonal glands with the nutrients they need to produce hormones efficiently. This creates a balance of not only estrogen, but also of other hormones like cortisol. In addition, because these supplements do not introduce external hormones into the body, they are safe and can be taken as long as necessary.
From "Nature and Health Magazine," Dr. Gloria Chacon says:
The most effective form of treatment is typically a combination of approaches, especially lifestyle changes complemented by herbal supplements. However, when joint pain is severe and interferes with daily life, medical treatment may be called for. It is important to be aware of the risks and benefits before opting for this approach.
3. Medications and Therapy
Chronic joint pain may damage the joints and reduce a person's mobility. In such cases, physical therapy may be recommended to rehabilitate the ailing joint or joints. While this requires several sessions and requires effort and cooperation from the patient, it is one of the most direct and effective ways to treat joint pain.
Medications used to treat joint pain depend on the type of joint pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs are used to relieve inflammation. Aceteminophen (Tylenol) may help the soreness feel better. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may help relieve pain and swelling. Talk to your doctor before taking aspirin or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen if you are suffering from digestive problems. If these must be taken, try deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), as this will at least aid the protection of the digestive system.
Medications for hormone-related joint pain
In recent years, the most common medication for menopausal joint pain has been hormone replacement therapy or HRT. While this can be a fast and powerful way to manage joint pain, it also poses the risk of severe adverse side effects, as revealed in the study below.
In 1991, the National Institutes of Health launched a new study to research the pros and cons of HRT, the Women's Health Initiative. However, it was halted 11 years later, at which point it was discovered that the use of artificial hormones increases the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Other medications are also available to treat joint pain. For example, topical creams can be applied directly to sore joints, or a doctor may inject steroid medications into the affected joints to relieve inflammation. However, both options may carry side effects, so it is essential to consult a doctor to determine the best individualized treatment plan.
The three approaches to treating joint pain are not mutually exclusive; they can be used as necessary to treat symptoms. In fact, many women find that a combination of lifestyle adjustments and alternative medicine provide the most relief from joint pain.
A Safe Way of Treating Joint Pain
Making lifestyle changes:
- Using cold or hot compresses
- Doing regular low-impact exercise
- Eating a diet rich in calcium, antioxidants, and estrogen-boosting foods
- High stress levels
- Overworking joints
- Excess consumption of grain products
And taking herbal supplements to balance hormones:
- Nourishes the endocrine system to support steady hormone production.
- Natural, full of nutrients, safe, and effective
- Chainani-Wu, N. (2003). Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 9(1), 161-168. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12676044
- Deal, C.L. et al. (1991). Treatment of arthritis with topical capsaicin: a double-blind trial. Clinical Therapeutics, 13(3), 383-395. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1954640
- Goldberg, R.J. & Katz, J. (2007). A meta-analysis of the analgesic effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for inflammatory joint pain. Pain, 129(1-2), 210-223. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17335973
- Magliano, M. (2010). Menopausal arthralgia: Fact or fiction. Maturitas, 67(1), 29-33. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2010.04.009
- Mur, E. et al. (2002). Randomized double blind trial of an extract from the pentacyclic alkaloid-chemotype of uncaria tomentosa for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology, 29(4), 678-681. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11950006
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Joint pain. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003261.htm
- National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Osteoarthritis. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from http://nihseniorhealth.gov/osteoarthritis/treatmentandresearch/01.html
- Office of Dietary Supplements. (2016). Vitamin C - Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/