The final installment of our International Women’s Day series is all about menopause.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a natural process, usually part of ageing, where a women’s oestrogen levels decrease. Most women will experience it between the age of 45 and 55 years of age with the average age for women in the UK to reach menopause being 51. However around 1 in 100 women can go through it before the age of 40 known as early menopause.
Early menopause can occur for a number of reasons, such as removal of the ovaries (oopherectomy or radical hysterectomy), chemotherapy, radiotherapy or an infection (tuberculosis, mumps, etc). It can also occur spontaneously for no reason, this is referred to as primary ovarian insufficiency.
Common Symptoms can Include:
- Hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
- Night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
- Difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day
- Reduced sex drive (libido)
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain, itching or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
- Palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
- Joint stiffness, aches and pains
- Reduced muscle mass
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Musculoskeletal Changes During Menopause
Menopause has an adverse impact on the overall musculoskeletal (MSK) system so we’re going to take a look at a handful of these conditions.
Recently there has been more research into the link between osteoarthritis and menopause. Osteoarthritis is a slow-progressing joint inflammation that can result from cartilage degeneration. It is now recognised that cartilage degeneration can occur due to oestrogen deficiency around the time of menopause. OA symptoms include joint tenderness, increased pain and stiffness when the joints have not moved for a while, joints appearing swollen or more “knobbly” than usual, grating or crackling sounds or sensations in the joints and limited range of movement in the affected joints.
Osteoporosis is another condition closely related to oestrogen deficiency and postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of developing it. During the menopausal transition period, the drop of oestrogen leads to more bone resorption than formation, resulting in osteoporosis. This condition is considered to be “silent” because the bone density can decrease without any symptoms. It isn’t until a small bump or fall results in a broken bone that it is noticed. Other symptoms include loss of height, changes to spinal shape and sometime severe back pain which may be an indicator of a collapsed
Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and function usually associated with the ageing process. There is a higher risk for women post-menopause and an even higher risk for women who have a sedentary lifestyle. Sarcopenia can range in severity, it has been suggested that it should be characterised in 3 stages: pre-sarcopenia, sarcopenia and severe sarcopenia. The pre-sarcopenia stage is characterised by low muscle mass without influence on muscle strength or physical performance. The sarcopenia stage is characterised by low muscle mass and low muscle strength or low physical performance. Severe sarcopenia is characterised by all three of the criteria already mentioned.
How Can Osteopathy Help?
Education – Menopause can often be a difficult time, experiencing lots of changes while the internet has a never-ending supply of contradictory information is not helpful! Your osteopath can give you the correct information on what changes to expect and why this is happening.
Symptom Relief – Osteopaths may be able to provide musculoskeletal symptom relief for the aches and pains that are related to menopause. Particularly easing symptoms of osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and sarcopenia. They can also provide home management plans to aid this.
Advice – Osteopaths can talk you through the treatment options available to reduce other symptoms that osteopathy can’t help with and signpost you to further help. They may be able to offer nutritional and lifestyle advice. They can also provide home management plans to reduce the likelihood or severity of experiencing some of the musculoskeletal symptoms.
Where Else Can I Get Help?
Not everyone wants treatment for the symptoms of menopause and that’s fine! If you are interested in discussing your options or learning more then there are other resources:
Speak with your GP – they will be able to advise you on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Not everyone wants to use HRT and many women choose not to. If HRT isn’t for you or doesn’t suit you then other medication such as a certain type of blood pressure medication or specific antidepressant may be suggested.