If you’re going through the menopause, your loss of oestrogen can make you more susceptible to uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes, and even back pain.
Back pain, particularly lower back pain, is a common complaint from menopausal women. This back pain has a number of causes, and it can have a significant impact on your quality of life.
So, what causes it, and how is it treated?
What Causes Menopausal Back Pain?
Our bodies experience plenty of intense changes during the menopause, which can lead to many uncomfortable symptoms. Back pain (especially lower back pain) is a common complaint for women going through the menopause.
Many of us take back pain as a normal part of ageing, but in truth, the pain can be exacerbated with the menopause. Although menopausal pain is common, it’s not necessarily ‘normal’.
Here’s just a few factors that may be responsible for menopausal back pain:
It’s common to gain weight during the menopause. As your progesterone levels reduce, you’re likely to have a reduced metabolic rate and experience an increase in appetite.
These hormonal changes often lead to weight gain, (see also: Can Uterine Fibroids Cause Weight Gain?)which if not managed, can lead to increased muscle tension, back pain, and spinal pressure.
Excessive weight gain can even lead to more complicated issues such as arthritis, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.
Although an increased appetite is common with the menopause, it’s important to stay physically active and eat clean to protect your physical health.
Your oestrogen levels may also be contributing to your back pain.
Oestrogen has a pretty big role to play in maintaining your bone health and strength, and as your oestrogen levels start to decrease during the menopause, you may be more susceptible to fractures and stress, which can lead to back pain.
Other Health Conditions
In some cases, your back pain may also be the result of another underlying condition.
Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia are known to cause extreme discomfort, back pain, fatigue, and muscle tenderness.
Although these conditions can occur at any stage of life, many tend to occur during the menopause.
A muscle imbalance may also be responsible for your back pain. If your back muscles have become weaker than your abdominal muscles, you may end up with tension in all the wrong places.
This can kick your body out of alignment and put more pain and strain on your back.
Many of us are guilty of poor posture, but as we age, we become even more susceptible to it.
As we age, our muscles tend to weaken, which can limit the amount of back support we have, and put strain on our muscles. Chronically poor posture can lead to chronic back pain.
How Does Oestrogen Affect Spine And Bone Health?
We’ve already had a brief look at how oestrogen can affect our bone and spine health, but it’s really worth a much closer look.
A lower oestrogen level is one of the leading causes of back pain in menopausal women, and it’s important to understand the role it plays on our bone and spine health.
Oestrogen plays a big role in bone health for both men and women. Oestrogen promotes osteoblast activity – these are the cells in the body responsible for producing bone.
Oestrogen can slow the degeneration of bones in the body and encourage bone growth.
When your oestrogen levels drop with the menopause, your bone health will become compromised. Individuals with hormone imbalances and postmenopausal women often experience bone disease.
Oestrogen also plays a part in collagen retention. Oestrogen helps maintain tissues in the body that contain collagen – these can be found in the intervertebral discs in the body.
Lower oestrogen levels may be associated with a more severe degeneration of the lumbar discs.
Degenerative Disc Disease And The Menopause
In between each vertebra of the spine sits a series of discs that can be thought of as your body’s very own ‘shock absorbers’.
These discs play an important role in your bone health, and they can help stabilise your spine, allowing you to move freely without any unwanted pain.
Unfortunately, as we age, these fibrous discs can start to dry out. As they lose their elasticity, they become thinner which can lead to more back pain and harsher movements.
The loss of elasticity in your discs is called degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease is more prevalent in postmenopausal women, who have a much higher chance of developing it more severely than men of a similar age.
Studies have shown that a loss of oestrogen may be a significant risk factor in the development of severe degenerative disc disease.
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease can include:
- Pain that worsens when you sit, bend or lift
- Pain that radiates down your lower back and buttocks
- Tingling in your arms and legs that accompanies your back pain
- A pain that comes and goes, and can last for weeks or even months at a time
Degenerative disc disease is diagnosed with a complete medical history and thorough physical examination. An MRI may also be able to show damage to the discs, but alone it cannot confirm a diagnosis.
How To Treat Menopausal Back Pain
Most treatments for menopausal back pain are similar to standard back pain treatments. You may be recommended a combination of physical exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, and even physical manipulation.
Your doctor may recommend a series of weight bearing exercises or resistance activities to help increase your bone strength.
Some medical practitioners may even recommend alternative treatments such as acupuncture to help alleviate the symptoms of back pain(see also: How To Relieve Back Pain From Large Breasts?).
Other treatments can include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Ensuring you have proper back support
- Physiotherapy to improve back mobility
- Adequate sleep and rest
- Over-the-counter medication to relieve mild to moderate pain
- Hormonal therapy (usually HRT) to help restore oestrogen and progesterone levels
- Vitamins and supplements such as vitamin D and calcium to reduce muscle pain and spasms
Menopausal back pain is usually caused by a loss of oestrogen. Many patients may benefit from hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) combined with physical exercise, physiotherapy, and supplements.