An explanation for breast pain, joint pain and other common aches in menopause

From hot flushes and night sweats to weight gain and mood swings, we all know – or think we know – the challenges menopause can bring.

But there are some that don’t get talked about quite as much. Like those niggly little aches and pains you’ve probably put down to ageing or overdoing it at the gym. Could your hormones be to blame?

Here (finally) are the answers to all your questions about menopause pain...

Breast pain in menopause

The breast pain menopause sometimes brings with it happens when hormonal fluctuations cause fluid to build up in the breasts, making them swollen, tender and painful.

More:The LadyCare Menopause Magnet: What is it, and does it actually work?

It’s the same thing women with PMS experience in the lead up to their period, but it can become more marked in peri-menopause because your hormonal shifts become more dramatic. Your breasts may also change in size or shape around this time.

You shouldn’t experience breast pain after you’ve stopped having periods completely, but it sometimes continues in women who take HRT.

Menopause joint pain

So what’s the link between menopause and joint pain? In a word: oestrogen. This hormone is important for joint health because it minimises inflammation and swelling and improves hydration. But at menopause, your ovaries stop producing it. Cue joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, creaking and loss of range of movement.

Menopause leg pain is a common complaint because joints like the hips and knees experience high impact. But menopause joint pain (sometimes called menopausal arthritis) can affect any joint in the body, including the fingers and toes. Joint pain and stiffness can also cause your posture to change. This can pull on your muscles and exacerbate menopause hip pain, as well as back and shoulder pain.

Menopause back pain

Women are more likely to experience lower back pain around the time of the menopause. Researchers think this is because we need oestrogen to keep our spinal discs healthy. When our oestrogen levels drop, the discs in our lumbar spine can start to degenerate. However, HRT can help to stop this damage progressing.

Menopause muscle pain

Muscle aches and pains are common around menopause. Why? Well, magnesium is crucial for muscle function, and oestrogen is important for efficient magnesium uptake and utilisation. When oestrogen levels drop, muscle pain, cramps and fatigue can set in. Magnesium supplements may also help with other menopause symptoms, like hot flushes.

Menopause stomach pain

Some women still experience something that feels a lot like period pain after menopause. So what causes menopause period pain? Cramp-like pains usually just mean you haven’t fully reached menopause – your womb is still building up some lining and you’ll probably have another period at some point in the future.

More:Menopause weight gain: what they don’t tell you

But if you feel a dull or sharp pelvic pain, it could be caused by an ovarian cyst. Ovarian cysts are usually harmless, but become more common after menopause. The ovary pain menopause sometimes brings with it may be accompanied by pain during sex, bloating, needing to urinate frequently or having trouble emptying your bowels, but you’ll usually only experience symptoms if a cyst ruptures or grows particularly large.

While they’re rare, you’re also more likely to get ovarian and uterine cancer after the menopause, which can cause similar symptoms, including chronic pain, bloating, pain during sex and a frequent and urgent need to urinate, as well as unexpected weight loss and vaginal bleeding.

Uterine polyps also become more common after menopause. Polyps are growths in the lining of the uterus. They range from the size of a sesame seed to the size of a golf ball. They’re usually harmless, but can cause vaginal bleeding, even after menopause.

You might also experience more digestive issues around the time of the menopause. This is because oestrogen helps to control our cortisol levels. When our oestrogen levels decrease, our cortisol levels increase, which can cause digestive problems including indigestion, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain.

Freelance journalist

Samantha Simmonds is a freelance journalist, content writer, copywriter, and editor based in London. 

She graduated from Reading University with a First Class degree in Psychology, later achieving a Distinction in her Diploma in Fashion & Personal Styling from The London College of Style. 

Samantha is currently creating digital editorial content for John Lewis, writing for The Edit's wellbeing channel. She also writes for publications including Women's Health, Top Santé, Refinery29, GoodtoKnow, Cosmopolitan, Healthy, Health & Wellbeing, woman&home, and Yahoo, and has created commercial content for brands including Berghaus, Amazon, and Regaine.