Some women experience back pain when they’re going through menopause. It can be very debilitating but fortunately there are often some effective steps you can put in place to help.
Why can menopause be linked with back pain?
Research suggests lower back pain becomes more common during the menopause transition, and after menopause. There could be a number of reasons for this. The first is – yep – directly linked to those falling hormones. Studies suggest the sharp decline in oestrogen is connected with degeneration of the discs that make up your spine, most dramatically in the first 15 years after menopause, although supplementing with oestrogen in the form of HRT may help prevent this.
There could also be some less direct reasons. Excess weight can put strain on your back so if you gain weight in the middle years, this might contribute to back pain. Stress, anxiety and insomnia, all more common at this time, can leave you with tense muscles, which may also lead to aches and pains.
Your healthy back action plan
See your doctor
First and foremost, it’s important to be checked out by your doctor if you have persistent or severe back pain. Back problems can get worse if left untreated and it’s hard to know exactly what’s causing the pain without a proper examination. Your doctor can evaluate you and suggest possible solutions, including physiotherapy or painkillers, if appropriate, as well as giving you general lifestyle advice. They may also suggest treatments such as acupuncture, osteopathy or chiropractic. If you’re in long-term pain and struggling to cope, a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy may also be a good idea.
Staying active is one of the best things you can do for your back, and helps address stress and anxiety, too. Walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates can be particularly helpful for your back, although you should always check with a medical professional before you start any new form of exercise. Even when you have back pain, it’s usually best to keep moving. "I do Pilates once or twice a week, yoga flow and body balance, which is yoga and Pilates combined. I still ache first thing but it does go off with movement," says Live Better With Menopause community member SusieG.
Lose weight if you need to
Exercise will help with this but following a balanced diet, low in saturated fat and sugar, is key for keeping to a healthy weight and protecting your back.
Try topical treatments
Hot or cold compresses can be really useful for easing pain. Even a hot water bottle or pack of frozen veg will help. You can also look for cooling or heating gels, special soothing balms, rubs or oils, and bath soaks to ease pain. The Muscle Ache Kit contains a soothing balm, bath salts and a microwaveable lavender wheat wrap.
You may need urgent medical help if you have back pain and other symptoms, including:
- Losing control of your bladder or bowels
- Chest pain
- A high temperature
- Unintentional weight loss
- Pain that comes from the top of your back, rather than your lower back
- Pain that is so severe you can’t sleep
- Weakness in your legs
- Numbness when wiping yourself on going to the toilet
Related article: Your guide to weaker muscles and bones