I get many women contacting me about muscle aches and pains, and other issues with their muscles, wondering if it's a menopause symptom. And if so, what's causing it, and what they can do to help themselves.
So today, I'm going to look at eight different reasons why you can end up with muscle issues in menopause.
Muscles problems that can occur during menopause
The main muscle symptoms and problems would be things like general aches and pains, such as muscles feeling sore and painful after doing very little exercise or walking. You might also find your muscles are stiff when you get up in the morning and it takes maybe an hour before the stiffness and discomfort eases.
You may find you start to get muscle cramps, especially at night, or restless leg, or muscle twitching. It also could be muscle weakness. You may find that your arms get weaker, that you find it more difficult to open jars and packets. And it can also be muscle loss. You may feel that your muscle size and shape is shrinking.
1. Hormonal changes
It is mainly due to falling oestrogen. This can cause several issues but one of the things that can happen is that as your oestrogen falls, the level of cortisol in your body can increase. And cortisol can affect quite a few different areas in the body.
High cortisol is very common in anxiety and this is why a lot of women will suffer anxiety during menopause. But high levels of cortisol can also affect muscles. It can cause muscle tension and muscle pain. And also, high levels of cortisol will increase your sensitivity to pain so you may not necessarily be getting more pain, but you will feel that pain much more keenly.
It could also be due to progesterone. Progesterone is a muscle relaxant. It helps our body to relax. So, if your progesterone starts to decrease during menopause, that in itself can cause more muscle tension. And it makes it much more difficult for you to relax, especially just before you start to fall asleep.
It can be anxiety itself. If your cortisol levels are increasing, if your anxiety is increasing, you get more muscle tension. When we're anxious and stressed, very often, our shoulders hunch, our jaw clenches and our neck gets stiff, causing these areas to become much more uncomfortable. And if this happens regularly, it can tighten the muscles to the neck and shoulders and that can lead to constant pain.
3. Low magnesium
I often mention how important magnesium is during menopause, and here is another reason! Magnesium is vital for proper muscle function. If your digestion is affected, if you don't have enough magnesium, if you're having problems absorbing magnesium, then that is going to affect muscle function.
If you are low in magnesium, you will find you tend to get muscle aches. Your muscles will get sorer more quickly when you exercise, so you will find that even doing a little bit of exercise, maybe the next day, your muscles are tight and uncomfortable.
Low magnesium is also a big trigger for leg cramps at night, and also, restless leg symptoms. And also, low magnesium can cause fatigue too.
4. Excessive sweating
If you're getting a lot of hot flushes or night sweats, then you can lose minerals such as magnesium and potassium through the sweat. And again, that's going to compound muscle aches and pains, and cramps.
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5. Low iron
If you are approaching menopause and you're starting to get heavy periods or prolonged periods, you can end up with anaemia. Low iron means that less oxygen is going to get to the muscles. And especially if you're exercising, if you're not getting enough oxygen to the muscles, that is going to result in muscle pain.
6. Weight gain
If you're starting to put weight on in menopause, that's going to have a direct effect on your muscles because your muscles are going to carry that weight, especially the leg muscles.
Your muscles are going to have to support that extra weight and that can lead to muscle fatigue.
7. Poor sleep
Not only can poor sleep trigger anxiety, but anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. You will be less robust and just generally, your body will be in a slightly weaker state. So, if poor sleep increases your anxiety levels that can then compound muscle function, causing muscle tension and pain.
8. Other issues
Women are prone to arthritis as they approach menopause. So, if your joints are starting to be affected, that can also cause muscle aches and pains. It could be just general fatigue. It can be a big trigger, too.
So again, if you're getting a lot of muscle aches and pains and joint aches and pains together, then it may be an idea just to check with your doctor to make sure that it's not arthritis.
It could be the medication that you're on. If you've started a certain medication and you've noticed that your muscles are aching, then check the patient information leaflet of your medication just to see if muscle ache or muscle tension is one of the known side effects.
What can help your muscles during menopause?
There are plenty of things you can do to help your muscles during menopause. Here are a few things I regularly recommend:
Magnesium & Iron
Just make sure you're getting loads of magnesium because it can help muscle function very quickly, especially if you're getting cramps and restless legs. Add magnesium-rich foods to your diet such as nuts, and seeds, your dark green leafy vegetables.
Get your iron levels checked by your doctor, especially if you're getting heavy or prolonged periods or you've had them in the past, because if you get low in iron, even if your periods have stopped, you can still be deficient, even one or two years down the line.
Consider supplements, too. That's an easy way to increase your magnesium and your iron if you need it.
Exercise is really important in menopause to maintain your muscles. It is the case of use it or lose it, so look to exercise regularly. Also, stretching exercises such as yoga, tai chi and Pilates can help keep the muscles supple.
Eat plenty of protein
Make sure that you're getting enough protein in your diet. Protein needs go up tremendously in menopause and this can be a huge factor. If you're low in protein, it will affect your muscles. Your muscles can shrink. And low protein will also affect your hair and your nails. So if you're getting that kind of scenario, then just check that you are getting a little bit of good quality protein with every single meal during the day.
Look at your water intake and increase it if needed. Dehydration can be a factor in muscle function, especially if you exercise regularly.
Some people find having a bath really helpful. You can get these magnesium flakes that you can soak in the bath and that can very often ease muscle tension.
Massages are a great way to relieve muscle tension. Getting a massage from another person helps to work muscles areas that you can't reach yourself such as the upper and lower back – plus it has great relaxing benefits overall!
Try and manage stress levels to keep the cortisol down because that will improve muscle function and help avoid muscle tension caused by tensing up when stressed or anxious.
I hope you found this one helpful. If any of you out there have any other tips that can help to support your muscle function, then please share with us because we would love to hear all about it.
Key points to take away from this blog:
Muscles problems such as aches and pains, cramps and stiffness can often occur during menopause as oestrogen and oestrogen levels fluctuate and fall. Other common problems during menopause can also affect the muscles such as low magnesium, low iron, excessive sweating, weight gain, poor sleep and anxiety.
Increasing your intake of magnesium, getting your iron level checked, staying hydrated, exercising regularly including stretching exercises, heat, massages and managing stress can all help support your muscles during and after menopause.