This post about menopause and chronic pain is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own
One day, when I was a kid, I came into the kitchen to find my mother standing with her head in the freezer. Just standing there with the freezer door open and her eyes closed just enjoying the cold air. Her explanation? A hot flash triggered by hormone changes. That was about the only thing she mentioned about menopause symptoms to me as a teen.
Basically, all I knew about going through menopause was that your periods got irregular and you started suffering from hot flashes. Then, I hit my 40’s and started dealing with chronic pain and menopause at the same time. And let me tell you, it is an experience I was completely unprepared for.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Chronic Pain
About 6 years ago, I was diagnosed with something called myofascial pain syndrome. What is it? Basically, our connective tissue is covered by a tough layer called myofascia. In MPS, this layer contracts and becomes stiff.
The stiffening of the myofascia results in painful pressure on nerves, muscles, bones, and organs. Trigger points or ‘knots’ of muscles form, resulting in chronic pain as well as many other symptoms. Some symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include:
- TMJ/jaw pain
- Pain in the lower back, arms, legs, neck, etc
- Depression, fatigue, anxiety, or mood disturbances
- Difficulty sleeping
See those last two symptoms up there that I highlighted? Know what else causes mood disturbances and difficulty sleeping? Menopause. Yeah…. lovely! Menopause and myofascial pain syndrome basically feed on one another to make me one seriously hot mess some days. And it’s not just me.
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Myofascial pain syndrome is most common in women between the ages of 30 and 60, with a high concentration of those in the peri-menopause age. Basically, fluctuating hormones can cause or make MPS even worse.
The emotional affects of menopause times a thousand
Last year, my oldest child went off to college. Like many moms who’s children flee the nest, I cried. Only I actually cried for about 9 months. In fact, even the years before that, I could feel the emotional effects of menopause. I cried in church. I cried at Publix commercials. Heck, there were times I was crying and had no idea WHY I was crying.
Like this post about menopause and chronic pain? Read these, too:
- How to Survive Menopause with Your Sanity Intact
- 7 Effective Natural Remedies for Chronic Pain
- Trigger Point Therapy Tools for Muscle Pain Relief
While hormone imbalance in menopause is certainly known to cause some roller coaster emotions, I really feel that menopause and chronic pain of myofascial pain syndrome were combining to completely overwhelm me at times.
Mood Swings, Hot Flashes, and More…
Not only did menopause and MPS create some unbelievable mood swings, but other menopause symptoms were exacerbated as well. Hot flashes would wake me up at night and neck pain would keep me awake. I was exhausted, emotional, and in pain on a regular basis. My early 40’s were basically just me struggling to hang on and just barely keeping my head above water.
Menopause and Muscle Pain: What worked for me
Chronic muscle pain is something I still deal with every day. It is a constant, uphill battle that I continue to fight regularly. Because if I don’t fight back every single day, it becomes overwhelming. The pain becomes fatigue which becomes exhaustion which turns into depression. And it is a never ending cycle.
Many of the recommended treatments for menopause symptoms also have a beneficial effect on chronic pain. At lease, they seem to for me. Here are a few ways I have fought back against the effects of menopause on chronic pain:
Eat healthy and consider a menopause diet.
I find that the ‘menopause diet’ of whole foods, lean protein, and loads of ‘good fats’ also helps with chronic pain. I’ve tried a lot of diets, including going gluten free and eating paleo. What I find works best is more of a ‘real food’ diet, high in nutrients and low in processed foods. This helps reduce inflammation in the body.
Limit the caffeine to reduce pain.
Caffeine makes muscles more sensitive to pain and may cause increased tension in the myofascia of muscles, tendons and nerves. I have never really lived on caffeine so this wasn’t too much of a problem for me. I drink one cup of coffee in the morning and that is it.
Cut back on alcohol.
While I have never been a big drinker, I have definitely noticed that alcohol is a trigger for me when it comes to pain, hot flashes, headaches, etc. On the rare occasion I decide to have a glass of wine, I make sure it is a day I have had even more water than usual (see below for hydration info).
The effects of alcohol vary, depending on where in my cycle I am. Which is hard to tell… because period irregularity is driving me nuts. For someone who used to be able to tell you exactly what day I was due every month, I don’t even know what MONTH I will get my period… much less what week or day!
Fight chronic pain with daily exercise.
Honestly, this is one way to kick menopause and chronic pain symptoms to the curb quickly. Stretching keeps me limber and releases tension from the muscle fibers. And a good workout is a great stress relief for me. It’s been hard to work out regularly lately because I have been struggling with chronic knee pain.
I have taken up swimming in an effort to stay in shape and keep the weight off. Because that is yet another menopause symptom I have been dealing with. Decreased metabolism means the weight is creeping on which makes daily exercise even more important.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
This one is vital. I have noticed that my headaches are MUCH worse if I get dehydrated. I keep a glass on the counter and refill it every time I go in the kitchen. Yes, I pee a lot. And let me tell you, at this point in my life, when I have to pee… I have to pee NOW.
Get more sleep, if possible.
This one has been hard. I don’t sleep well. I try to go to bed early and then I lay there staring at the ceiling. If I do fall asleep quickly, I wake up at 3 AM and can’t fall back to sleep. It is a constant challenge that I fight with bedtime teas and herbal supplements with varying degrees of success.
When Natural Treatments Don’t Work
If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of alternative medicine. My cabinets are literally filled with herbal teas, supplements, and vitamins for just about every single ailment. I am not AGAINST using medications, they just aren’t usually my first choice. Well, let me tell you, when the one-two punch of menopause and chronic pain hit, I quickly found that natural remedies weren’t enough.
For the last several years, I have decided that ibuprofen is my best friend. That when chronic pain is bad and keeping me awake at night, a muscle relaxer may just make it possible for me to make it through the next day without a two hour nap.
And the hardest thing for me to accept was the low dose anti depressant that my doctor prescribed. The one he chose is recommended for people suffering from chronic pain and for now, it seems to help keep my pain and emotional upheaval at a manageable level. I hope once menopause is over, I can ditch the medications, however, we will have to see how that goes.
September is Menopause Awareness Month
Did you know that September is Menopause Awareness Month? In addition to that, October 18 is World Menopause Day! We need to stop making menopause a ‘thing we deal with quietly’ and start talking about it.
Menopause is natural phase that our body goes through and not something shameful we quietly whisper about in the corners. I would love to hear your menopause story. The unexpected and surprising changes you noticed. The messy and scary symptoms you are dealing with. And the hopeful, enlightening, and happy things you have learned during this phase of your life. For more information about reclaiming this phase of your life, check out Disrupt Aging or follow @DisruptAging and the hashtags #DisruptAging and #Wisepause on Social Media
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.