Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to visit with my friend, Leslie, and her husband. Her husband noted that Leslie, who is in her late 40s and who regularly instructs exercise classes, no longer qualifies as a ninja because her joints crack when she moves, thus alerting those around to her presence.
I can empathize. I have always had joints that would periodically crack, but now it seems that everything creaks regularly, especially when I get up in the morning. I also find that I feel a lot stiffer (and more clumsy, to boot). It turns out that the menopausal process can be behind this stiffness. "Muscles and joints can become sore, and coordination is affected; an increase in clumsy behavior may be noted," wrote Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in "The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause."
In the companion guide to her "Menopause in an Hour" video series, Dr. Tara Allmen noted that aches and pains are common. She also notes that after menopause, an increase in frequency and severity of osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis (which is a common cause of joint disease) can be seen.
To ease these aches and pains, she suggests maintaining a normal weight, exercising regularly, taking 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3, and trying physical therapy. She also noted that over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and glucosamine sulfate also may be helpful.
I've found that watching what I eat tends to help as well. I've noticed that one of my fingers periodically stiffens up, but when I take fish oil and focus on a Mediterranean diet, the discomfort is limited. A 2007 Reuters article reported that a number of studies have shown some evidence that foods in this type of diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil, have anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, this diet is high in antioxidants, which help to limit the damage done to body cells.
Other options to ease joint pain are available. MedilinePlus, which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Heath, notes that warm baths, massage, and stretching exercises should be used as frequently as possible. Massage has been especially helpful to me. In an article by Karrie Osborn entitled "Easing the Menopausal Journey" on massagetherapy.com, massage clinic owner Jennifer Tornstrom said that many women turn to massage to deal with menopause symptoms such as sore joints and muscles, as well as anxiety and fatigue. The therapies that she offers to clients include myofascial work, deep tissue massage, Swedish massage and energy work. She noted that the massage work increases range of motion, eases postural restrictions and helps women reconnect with their bodies.
When I visit with my doctor next, I'll make sure to discuss the joint stiffness in my finger. But until then, I'll also make sure until then that I stretch, eat right, and use the other recommendations from the experts above. Like Leslie, my days as a ninja may be numbered, but I want to make sure that my joints remain healthy (albeit creaky) for life.