While menopause doesn’t have to be a miserable experience, it does bring along symptoms that must be managed in order to prevent discomfort. A common menopausal symptom that is closely related to stress anxiety, muscle tension refers to the condition in which muscles of the body remain semi-contracted for an extended period of time.
Muscle tension, also known as myofascial pain syndrome, affects the fascia, which is the connective tissue that covers the muscles. It is due to the inflammation of this tissue that causes pain. It can also be called muscle tension, which is the straining of the muscles that causes pain. This pain can be constant or can come and go. During menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels are low, thus increasing levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol cause the muscles in the body to tighten and become fatigued.
Causes of Muscle Tension
Hormonal Causes During menopause, between the ages of 45 and 55, the hormones in a female body changes. The two main hormones that are affected are progesterone and estrogen. As the hormones fluctuate, the body’s reactions to this can cause muscle tension. Progesterone calms our bodies and as the levels decrease, the muscles of the body tense.
Symptoms of Muscle tension
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle cramping
- Sore feelings throughout the body
- Tightness in muscles (Back, neck, abdomen and shoulders)
- Limited movement of one’s joints
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle Soreness
Estrogen regulates cortisol, which is a stress-related hormone. Cortisol levels rise when the estrogen level drops, causing our blood sugars and blood pressure to elevate. This in turn causes our muscles to tighten and feel painful. These changes mostly occur before our body enters actual menopause. As the body prepares for menopause these fluctuations occur.
Muscle Tension has many causes including:
- Muscle injury
- Autoimmune reaction
- Muscle strain
- Muscle tear
- Heart Attack
- Beginning a new exercise regime
- Loss of blood flow to the muscle
- Stomach Irritation
- Repetitive Motions
Managing Muscle Tension
Daily Lifestyle Changes
- Exercise – Adopting a gentle exercise regime that will increase your physical exertion can make a difference in your muscle tension and increase the healing rate. Starting off slow and gradually increasing activity helps prevent muscle tension. Working out increases endorphin levels (which raises your threshold for pain) and helps you prevent excess wear and tear on your knees and hips. Most importantly, exercise can help regulate cortisol levels and reduce your inflammation.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to help treat joint pain caused by stress and minimize the effects on your body during menopause.
- Yoga – Poor posture can result in join pain, so joining a yoga studio or renting a yoga video to watch and participate in your own home is a wonderful idea. Yoga can do wonders for one’s body and mind, which is crucial when dealing with menopausal muscle tension.
- Get a Full Night’s Rest – It is vital to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep to help alleviate menopausal muscle tension.
- Replenishing Your Diet – Eating more calcium-rich foods, magnesium-rich foods and Vitamin E-foods, like green vegetables, nuts and almonds, are other easily adaptable diet changes to help alleviate and prevent muscle tension.
- Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids – Eat oily fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Many fish contain Vitamin D, which is an essential nutrient for strong and healthy bones that can help prevent muscle tension.
- Reduce Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar – High carb diets promote prolonged high levels of insulin, which interferes with cellular metabolism and can spread inflammation. Refined carbohydrates and sugar can slow down the system and put strain on muscles and joints, causing muscle tension. Get your sugar from fruits.
- Eat More Fruits – Fruits contain natural anti-inflammatories that will help fight menopausal joint pain, without any harsh chemicals or drugs. Fruits include cherries, berries, pineapples, apples and bananas. Bananas contain bromelain, a strong anti-inflammatory enzyme that helps the body break down protein.
- Eat more Vitamin D – With Vitamin D in one’s diet, it helps prevent the breakdown of cartilage and maintains strong bones. Fortified milk and shrimp are two excellent sources of Vitamin D.
Muscle Tension Treatment
- Vitamins - Vitamin C is crucial to the health of the muscles, along with potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous work together. Without these, the muscles can’t contract effectively and smoothly. Vitamin C is directly involved in the formation of collagen and elastin, the connective tissues of the body, which form the structure of the muscles. It also is responsible for blood vessel health, which supports the muscles need for nutrients and oxygen.
- Alternative Medicine – Chinese medicine (acupuncture) has been a long standing treatment for muscle tension around the world. Acupuncture is a medical treatment involving the insertion of sharp sterile needles into the body at specific points according to a mapping of “energy pathways.” Myofascial trigger-point therapy focuses on “trigger point” regions that are believed to be sensitive areas around the muscles, bones and organs. Medical practitioners relieve pain at these “trigger points” by using injections, massage techniques, mechanical vibrations and electrical stimulation.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – Herbal remedies are useful in reducing inflammation and improving one’s energy. It is a great replacement for anti-inflammatory drugs that can cause further damage if taken for long periods of time. Licorice and peony roots soothe pain and spasms, while Korean ash bark restores flexibility. Chinese lovage root and safflower support proper circulation. The two commonly known herbs for treating muscle pain are phytoestrogen and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By
stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Physical Therapy – A physical therapist can help relieve muscle tension by closely examining one’s symptoms. Treatment options may involve stretching exercises, massage techniques and posture adjustments.
- Over-the-Counter Medication – It is recommended to use pain relievers for muscle tension, such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDS, such as Ibuprofen (Advil), Aspirin (Bayer, Anacin) and Naproxen (Naprosyn or Aleve) and read all labels and instructions extremely carefully before taking them.
- Hormone Therapy Treatments (HRT) – For more severe cases of muscle tension, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional regarding the negative side effects before you begin treatment.