Joint Pain and Menopause: Causes, Treatments, Exercises for Relief

Learn about symptoms, causes, and treatment options for menopause joint pain, including PT-recommended exercises for relief.

Published Date: Apr 17, 2024
woman-with-joint-pain

Joint Pain and Menopause: Causes, Treatments, Exercises for Relief

Learn about symptoms, causes, and treatment options for menopause joint pain, including PT-recommended exercises for relief.

Published Date: Apr 17, 2024
woman-with-joint-pain

Joint Pain and Menopause: Causes, Treatments, Exercises for Relief

Learn about symptoms, causes, and treatment options for menopause joint pain, including PT-recommended exercises for relief.

Published Date: Apr 17, 2024
woman-with-joint-pain

Joint Pain and Menopause: Causes, Treatments, Exercises for Relief

Learn about symptoms, causes, and treatment options for menopause joint pain, including PT-recommended exercises for relief.

Published Date: Apr 17, 2024
woman-with-joint-pain
Table of Contents

You expect irregular periods. You’re prepared for hot flashes (and hope to avoid night sweats). And you’ve been well-warned that mood swings, fatigue, and vaginal dryness can be part of your menopause experience. But joint pain in menopause? That one might be news to you. Many women experience painful, achy, or swollen joints as they age because of arthritis and other conditions. As your body transitions toward menopause, stiffness in your fingers and pain in your knees may be linked to hormonal changes. Just another joy of menopause to manage? We hear you (and feel your pain). But there are steps you can take to help ease joint pain related to menopause. Read on to learn how menopause causes joint pain, what it feels like, and the best ways to find relief, including exercises and lifestyle strategies.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Kandis Daroski, PT, DPT
Pelvic Health Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Daroski is a pelvic health physical therapist who provides clinical expertise for the Hinge Health Women's Pelvic Health Program.
Tamara Grisales, MD
Expert Physician in Urogynecology and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Grisales is a board-certified urogynecologist and surgeon and oversees the Women's Pelvic Health program at Hinge Health.
Jacqueline White, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. White is a Hinge Health Pelvic Health Physical Therapist with a special interest in supporting women throughout all stages of life, including pregnancy/postpartum care and menopausal support.

What Causes Joint Pain During Menopause?

Your shifting hormones — specifically estrogen — likely play a role. Estrogen is a sex hormone that affects many body systems, including your musculoskeletal system. Estrogen helps maintain bone structure by slowing down the natural breakdown of bone. It helps improve muscle mass and strength and increases the collagen content of connective tissues in your joints. Estrogen also plays a part in preventing inflammation. Research shows estrogen can decrease stiffness in muscles, tendons, and ligaments, leading to better joint performance and reduced injury rates.

Enter perimenopause — the time leading up to menopause. (Menopause officially means that it’s been a year since your last period.) Perimenopause usually begins in a woman’s mid-to-late 40s and lasts an average of four years. During this transition, hormone levels fluctuate and estrogen drops. With lower levels of estrogen, inflammation may occur more easily. Plus, cartilage and other joint tissues lose some of their protection, which can lead to stiffness, friction, and pain. 

Low estrogen (and its effects on your joints) continues into menopause and beyond. Studies have shown up to 50% of women in menopause report joint pain.

Menopause, however, is not the only possible cause of joint pain during this time. Other conditions that may lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints include:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA). This most common type of arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones changes over time. OA can happen in any joint, causing symptoms such as pain and stiffness that tend to worsen after activity.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissue lining the joints, causing chronic inflammation. 

  • Fractures due to osteoporosis. This bone disease weakens bones, making them more brittle and vulnerable to fractures.  

  • Fibromyalgia. This chronic disorder is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness, as well as fatigue, trouble sleeping, and cognitive difficulties.

Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the cause of your joint pain so you can get proper treatment.

Menopause joint pain varies from person to person. It can affect a variety of joints — including the hands, feet, knees, elbows, shoulder, neck, and hips — and affect your ability to do daily activities. Some signs of hormone-related joint pain and associated discomforts include:

  • Joint pain and stiffness that’s worse in the morning and improves with activity

  • Joint pain that ranges in severity from a dull ache to a sharp, shooting pain, or burning sensation

  • Back pain

  • Muscle pain

  • Decreased range of motion

Physical Therapy for Joint Pain in Menopause

When joints ache, you’re more likely to avoid movement. But in most cases, being active can actually help you feel better. “Movement and exercise play a crucial role in managing joint pain during menopause,” says Jacqueline White, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. Regular physical activity can help:

  • Decrease joint pain and stiffness, in part by promoting joint lubrication. Your joints contain synovial fluid, which is rich in nutrients. Exercise helps circulate the fluid, explains Dr. White. Flushing out the old fluid and bringing in the new helps promote joint health. Movement also helps relieve pain by improving your range of motion.

  • Strengthen muscles around the joints, which helps provide better support and stability to take pressure off painful joints.

  • Promote better sleep as well as decrease fatigue and improve your mood — indirectly alleviating other common symptoms of menopause that may impact pain, adds Dr. White.

You can exercise on your own to ease menopause-related joint pain, but working with a physical therapist (PT) can be helpful, too. A PT can do a full assessment and help tailor a comprehensive treatment plan to help relieve joint pain and improve your overall function.

A PT may recommend low-impact exercise and stretches to help prevent stiffness and tightness, as well as exercises to strengthen your core, pelvic floor, low, mid-, and upper back muscles. They can make sure your plan includes weight-bearing exercises to help prevent osteoporosis. 

You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

PT-Recommended Exercises for Menopausal Joint Pain

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  • Standing Child Pose
  • Scapular Squeezes
  • Seated Hip Flexor Stretch
  • Alternating Pelvic Tilts
  • Cat-Cow Stretch

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The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Regular physical activity is key to reducing joint pain and stiffness during menopause. But in addition to exercise, there are a range of lifestyle changes and other treatment options that may help ease your joint aches and prevent them from getting worse. Talk to your health care provider before trying these strategies to make sure they are safe and appropriate for you.

Eat more anti-inflammatory foods. Diet alone can’t cure joint pain. But eating well-balanced meals that include anti-inflammatory foods can play an important role in your management plan. Foods and nutrients that can help reduce inflammation include:

  • Fruits (strawberries, blueberries, and oranges)

  • Green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale)

  • Fatty fish (salmon and tuna)

  • Healthy fats (olive oil)

  • Nuts (almonds and walnuts) 

Certain dietary supplements — such as fish oil (which contains omega-3 fatty acids) and others — may help ease inflammation and improve joint health. Your doctor can help determine if a supplement may help ease menopause joint pain and if it’s safe for you to take. 

Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can put extra stress on your joints as you move. But managing your weight during perimenopause and menopause can be a struggle — and there are no easy answers. Taking steps to reduce your joint pain overall can lead to a more active lifestyle and help support your weight loss efforts. 

Try cold or heat therapy. Ice can help reduce inflammation and swelling to provide temporary pain relief. Heat is most commonly used for muscles that feel stiff or sore.

Take steps to reduce stress. That’s because stress may make joint pain worse. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga, or even taking a short walk may help keep stress levels in check. A bonus: Mind-body relaxation techniques have also been shown to help relieve the severity and frequency of hot flashes during perimenopause and menopause. 

Consult your doctor about menopause hormone therapy (MHT). Hormone treatment may help reduce joint pain during perimenopause and menopause. There are many different types of HRT available. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if HRT is right for you.

PT Tip: Embrace Movement as Empowerment

“Movement is one of the best ways to manage menopausal joint pain,” says Dr. White. “My advice is to embrace movement as a source of empowerment. Look for activities that promote flexibility and strength and also bring you joy. This will help foster a positive mindset about your body’s changes.” 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

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  2. Chidi-Ogbolu, N., & Baar, K. (2019). Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk. Frontiers in Physiology, 9(1). doi:10.3389/fphys.2018.01834

  3. Gulati, M., Dursun, E., Vincent, K., & Watt, F. E. (2023). The influence of sex hormones on musculoskeletal pain and osteoarthritis. The Lancet Rheumatology, 5(4), e225–e238. doi:10.1016/s2665-9913(23)00060-7

  4. Lu, C., Liu, P., Zhou, Y., Meng, F., Qiao, T., Yang, X., Li, X., Xue, Q., Xu, H., Liu, Y., Han, Y., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Musculoskeletal Pain during the Menopausal Transition: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Neural Plasticity, 2020, 1–10. doi:10.1155/2020/8842110

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  6. McLaren, Z., & Hum, O. (2022). Why menopause is relevant to the rheumatologist. Rheumatology, 61(4). doi:10.1093/rheumatology/keab848

  7. Menopause basics. (2019, March 18). Womenshealth.gov. https://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics

  8. Mitchell, E. S., & Woods, N. F. (2010). Pain symptoms during the menopausal transition and early postmenopause. Climacteric, 13(5), 467–478. doi:10.3109/13697137.2010.483025

  9. Sniekers, Y. H., Weinans, H., van Osch, G. J., & van Leeuwen, J. P. (2010). Oestrogen is important for maintenance of cartilage and subchondral bone in a murine model of knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 12(5). doi:10.1186/ar3148

  10. Sternfeld, B., & Dugan, S. (2011). Physical Activity and Health During the Menopausal Transition. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 38(3), 537–566. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.008

  11. Symptom Spotlight: Joint Pain. (n.d.). Www.letstalkmenopause.org. Retrieved March 7, 2024, from https://www.letstalkmenopause.org/our-articles/symptom-spotlight-joint-pain