Causes of Stiff Joints at Menopause
One aspect of menopause many women experience is the onset of joint pain.
There can be a number of reasons for joint pain, including injury, but at menopause other factors may be affecting you.
You’re getting older
Not one the any of us likes to face up to, or acknowledge, but as you age, your cartilage — the spongy material that protects the ends of your bones — begins to dry out and stiffen.
Your body also makes less synovial fluid and that acts like oil to keep your joints moving smoothly. The result: Your joints may not move as freely as they used to.
Best solution: to keep active because synovial fluid requires movement to keep your joints loose.
Your wake up call
When you’re asleep and still for several hours, the fluid that helps your joints move easily can’t do its job. That’s why you can wake up with knees or hands that are stiff and swollen.
Best solution: try to move around more during the day and if you are sitting for a long time before bed – watching tv for example – get up regularly or at least move and stretch in your chair.
A joint is the place where two bones meet. The end of each bone is covered in a layer of cartilage and this is what keeps them from rubbing together. But cartilage can wear away over time or after an injury.
When it’s gone, the bones hit one another, and sometimes, tiny pieces break off. The result is a stiff, swollen, painful joint.
Best solutions: First try to do fewer things that bother the joint in question, and if you are overweight this will definitely be putting more strain on it.
Over-the-counter drugs can help with pain and swelling and if they don’t, your doctor might inject stronger treatments directly into problem areas.
You can wrap joints to protect them and stop overuse, but this could weaken your muscles, so don’t overdo it. Some people need surgery, but it’s rare and your doctor will discuss these treatments plus others, such as physical therapy and losing weight.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Your immune system is supposed to protect you from outside attacks, but sometimes, it attacks the lining of your joints instead (your doctor will call this the synovium).
RA is most likely to affect your wrist or finger joints, but it can show up anywhere in your body. It often causes constant pain and stiffness. Sometimes, it stays in the background and only flares up now and then.
Best solutions: Doctors treat RA with medications that slow or stop the disease process and the goal is for you to have no signs of inflammation in your body.
Your doctor will refer to this as this remission and along with drugs, you can also take care of yourself — eat well, rest when you need to but keep moving, and take good care of your joints.
Other types ofarthritis
OA and RA are the most well known, but other types also affect your immune system and result in stiff joints:
- Ankylosing spondylitis: This type mostly affects your spine, but it can make your hips, hands, or feet feel stiff.
- Gout: The first sign of this build-up of uric acid in your body is often a searing pain in your big toe.
- Infectious arthritis: It often starts with an infection somewhere else in your body that travels to one big joint, like your hip.
- Psoriatic arthritis: People with psoriasis or family members who have it are most likely to get this type. Signs include swollen fingers and pitted nails.
Weather related pain
Doctors aren’t sure why, but joint pain seems to get worse when the weather changes. It’s most common when the air pressure (the weather forecaster will call it barometric pressure) falls. That typically happens just before a storm.
This chronic condition causes joint and muscle pain, along with sleep, mood, and memory problems. Scientists think your brain takes normal pain signals and makes them worse.
They aren’t sure what causes it, but it often follows an illness, surgery, or intense stress. It doesn’t damage your joints the way arthritis does, though.
Best solutions: There’s no cure, but over-the-counter pain medication should ease your pain an your doctor might prescribe others if these don’t help.
A physical therapist can teach you special exercises to help and you might also try a relaxation technique like deep breathing or a gentle exercise like yoga or tai chi. They’ll help you stretch and strengthen your muscles and tendons.
The two most common types are both forms of inflammation and usually result from overuse or misuse of a joint over time.
Bursitis involves the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between your bones and other moving parts and tendinitis affects the tendons that attach your muscles to your bones.
Best solutions: These conditions are easy to treat and you’ll likely make a full recovery. The first thing to do is give that joint a rest and take an over-the-counter pain medication.
Your doctor will probably give you a splint to wear and tell you to put ice on it and could also show you some exercises to do, too. If that doesn’t help, they could inject a stronger drug straight into the bursa or tendon to manage pain and swelling.
The more you move your joints, the less likely they are to get stiff so a little gentle gardening or a walk around the block can help.
You’ll strengthen the muscles that support your joints, keep your bones strong, improve your balance, and burn calories. Start slow, so you don’t get hurt and talk to your doctor if even gentle exercise makes the stiffness worse.
When to see the doctor
If the pain is a result of injury, or comes on suddenly these are what to be concerned about:
- You’re in extreme pain.
- You’ve been injured.
- The joint looks deformed.
- You can’t use it.
- It swells suddenly.
You should also make an appointment if your joints are tender or hard to move or the skin is red or warm to the touch. Joint symptoms last more than 3 days or happen several times a month should always be checked.
Inflammation is related to joint pain, and progesterone has anti-inflammatory effects so may be helpful for the conditions listed here.
Two favourite forms of help include heat and cold applications. So, if your joints are extra stiff in the morning, try a hot shower or bath. It’ll get blood flowing to the area, which loosens things up. You can also buy moist heat by putting a flannel into a freezer bag and microwave it for 1 minute. Wrap it in a towel and leave it on the area for 15-20 minutes.
Sometimes cold is more helpful if you have an achy joint. It narrows blood vessels, which slows blood flow to the area and eases swelling.
You can use cold. packs from the chemist, or try a bag of frozen peas instead. Put it on the area, but use a towel to protect your skin. Don’t do it for more than 20 minutes at a time. If you really want to chill a problem joint, try an ice bath.
The article below by nutritionist Patrick Holford also has some useful tips on dealing with such pain.