Experienced by more than half of women around the time of menopause, joint pain and muscle aches can make everyday activities, like getting dressed, going for a walk, or carrying groceries particularly difficult and painful.
What is joint pain?
Joint pain describes any kind of pain, discomfort, or inflammation experienced in a part of a joint—the part of your body where bones meet. This can include cartilage, bone, ligaments, tendons, or muscles. However, the most common form of joint pain—especially for women during menopause—refers to arthritis or arthralgia, both of which stem from inflammation within the joint itself.
What’s the cause?
There are a number of conditions that can cause joint pain in perimenopause and menopause. Degenerative arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are both common in this age group. Medications such as statins and bisphosphonates can also cause muscle or joint aches. However, it can also be a symptom of menopause and the decline in estrogen levels. In 21% of women, joint pain is the most bothersome symptom.
What does the research say?
- A study published in 2014 from the Women's Health Initiative randomized trial, compared women on estrogen alone to women on no hormones. They found that estrogen significantly reduced joint pain.
- A population-based prospective study, which interviewed 400+ women over eight years, found that women in the menopausal transition reported higher rates of joint pain and aches.
How is joint pain diagnosed?
Joint pain as a symptom of menopause is rarely an emergency and can often be successfully managed at home. A doctor will diagnose you based on your description of symptoms. These can include painful or stiff joints that are worse in the morning but tend to improve throughout the day and/or with movement, pain in the neck, jaw, shoulders, wrists, and elbows, and general stiffness, swelling, shooting pains, or burning sensations.
While most joint aches aren't serious, rheumatoid arthritis needs more specific treatment. Symptoms are characterized by inflammation in multiple symmetrical joints and prolonged morning stiffness. Osteoarthritis is more common in women and can occur around age 50, especially in the hands.
What are effective treatments?
Evidence shows that estrogen therapy can be an effective treatment for menopausal joint pain. Research also shows that estrogen therapy is effective at improving joint pain in post-menopausal women who have had a hysterectomy.
While less effective than hormone treatment, some women find that these options can also help:
- Research shows that increased BMI is associated with joint pain, suggesting that weight loss may help to improve symptoms.
- Consistent, low-impact exercise, like swimming, walking, or biking, has been shown to reduce the symptoms of joint pain and prevent joints from becoming sore and stiff.
- Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen), may help in the temporary relief of joint pain symptoms.
- Some medications, such as statins and bisphosphonates, may increase joint pain. Talk with your doctor to review your current prescriptions and determine whether alternative medications can help.
What to do next?
- Connect with an OBGYN who treats menopause.
- Determine your options: Collaborate with your doctor to identify and understand the treatment options available to you given your medical history.
- Decide what works for you: You know your body best. Select your treatment and keep communicating with your doctor to make sure it’s working optimally for you.
Are you experiencing other symptoms that you want to better understand and learn how to treat and manage them? Check out our following guides:
This article was reviewed by Cynthia Krause, MD
Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.