by WV Marshall
Women don’t have a corner on the lower back pain market – plenty of men experience an achy lower back because of a saggy mattress or simply living life. But if you’re a woman midlife or older, your aching back could be triggered by, you guessed it, perimenopause.
The back story (see what we did there?):
Lower back pain often can be traced to the degeneration of discs in the lumbar region of the lower back. (Discs are those spongy cushions separating the vertebrae of the spine and perform several key functions such as absorbing shock, providing stability for the vertebral column and providing vertebrae “pivot points” to allow movement.)
Disc degeneration tends to gets worse as we get older. But some studies also found that estrogen – which decreases during perimenopause – aids in keeping lumbar disks in good shape and that the loss of estrogen can weaken discs, Bottomelineinc.com reported.
To test this concept, researchers in China investigated how menopause affects this common cause of back pain in women.
National Institutes of Health reviewed published research on the association between the perimenopausal age and low back pain. Its analysists found that seven studies – including ones from Australia, Japan and India – indicated increased pain when women enter this period of their life but there was no agreement among researchers regarding which stage of menopause is the most troublesome.
**All studies seem to unanimously suggest an increased incidence of low back pain in perimenopausal women comparing to other age groups. **
None of them, however, contained information about pain management, which would take into consideration perimenopause-related factors such as the risk of osteoporosis or hormonal imbalance.
The NIH analysis noted that as life expectancy increases, women nowadays live about third of their life in menopause.
However, while there has been identification of symptoms associated with perimenopause – night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, to name more common ones – little attention was paid to pain in the spine and peripheral joints as an equally prevalent symptom associated with this period of life.
The researchers in China used MRI images instead of X-rays to evaluate disc degeneration in 1,566 women and 1,382 men of similar ages who were experiencing lower back pain. The women ranged in age from 30 to 93—the average age of women in the study was 68. Some females were premenopausal, others perimenopausal and many postmenopausal and none were taking hormone therapy. The researchers used an eight-point grading system to identify the level of lumbar disc degeneration.
What researchers found was postmenopausal women had significantly more severe disc degeneration men in that age group. A serious level of degeneration (at least a five on the eight-point scale) was found in 61 percent of postmenopausal women but only 42 percent of men the same age.
**Another finding: **
Before menopause, women experienced less disc degeneration than men in the same age group.
Researchers indicated one reason could be that women tend to experience less mechanical stress and physical injury in their jobs, bottomelineinc.com said.
This changed between the ages of 50 and 60, when women’s discs began to degenerate more quickly than those in men. Researchers also found that discs in postmenopausal women degenerated gradually throughout the first 15 years after menopause, but after 15 years, the disc degeneration in women slowed and kept pace with degeneration in men.
How can you counter lumbar disc degeneration? Strengthen those muscles that support your spine to help take pressure off your lumbar discs. You might consider a yoga program that includes a strength component. But, as with all medical concerns, please consult your healthcare provider to map out a plan that could help ease that ache in your back.
**Another thing that women suffer in perimenopause is back tension. **
Menopause Now lists four contributing factors as to why back tension occurs.
Stress or anxiety: One of the symptoms of menopause is intensified feelings of stress or anxiety, which can directly impact how tense your back muscles are. Stress can cause muscles to stiffen, leading to pain and a burning sensation around your back. One countermeasure is employing relaxation techniques.
Inactivity: If you don’t have a regular fitness routine, don’t be surprised if you experience back muscle tension during menopause, Menopause Now said. Regular exercise is a good way to combat muscle tension, and stretching, yoga, and cardio exercises are the best ones that you can do fend off muscle tensions. Stretching and yoga loosen back muscle while cardio exercises help to relieve anxiety and stress.
Unhealthy diet: Committing to a good exercise regimen must be paired with eating well to reducing back muscle tension. Foods high in magnesium, calcium, or vitamin E can help alleviate back muscle tension.
**Hormonal imbalance: **
While making different lifestyle choices and changing certain habits can help relieve back muscle tension, they don’t address the root cause, Menopause Now cautioned. The most common reason for back muscle tension during perimenopause is unbalanced hormone levels. Please consult with your healthcare provider to determine how you can counter hormonal imbalance, which can help alleviate muscle tension in your back, as well as other perimenopause symptoms.