Menopause and Running - What Women need to know
If you, like many of your contemporaries, are running into your late 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, it’s vital to know the facts about how your changing hormones during menopause are affect your joints, muscles and running. There’s some positive news on how running helps us maintain our health in midlife too.
Menopause is a phase of life through which all women pass. It can be smooth sailing or a rollercoaster, with a huge variation of symptoms. Officially, the menopause is defined as when a woman has stopped having periods for 1 year. The ovaries stop releasing eggs and the amount of oestrogen hormone in the body falls. It can also happen after the ovaries have been surgically removed. For most women, this happens between 45 and 55, with the average age in the UK being 51.
Perimenopause describes the transition to this time, as oestrogen and testosterone start to drop. It can last from months to years, with up to 80% of women experiencing symptoms such as hot flushes, low mood and anxiety, fatigue, and joint pain. (Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG), 2019).
Joint and muscle pain
It’s not clear exactly why joint pain increases during and after menopause, independently of increasing age, and no causal link has been established, some research shows possible associations between oestrogen levels, joint pain and arthritis. We do know that oestrogen gives women protective benefits for the connective tissues which make up the tendons attaching our muscles to
bone. It’s especially helpful for collagen regeneration and tissue repair when it’s traumatised or injured. It’s plausible that the lack of oestrogen during and after menopause may contribute to tendons being stiffer and slower to heal. Some tendon problems are more common in perimenopausal women, such as gluteal tendinopathy (often felt as pain on the side of the hip and sometimes associated with hip bursitis), and tibialis posterior tendon problems in the ankle and foot.
Staying strong and fracture free
Oestrogen helps regulate our bone health, and women can lose up to 20% of their bone density in the first 5-7 years post menopause, as these levels drop (NHS website: Menopause and your bone health). Even just a few minutes of running a day has been associated with better bone health in pre and post menopausal women, and promoted NHS guidance. As a weight bearing sport, running helps strengthen our bones, but it also has a high incidence of “shin splints” – a stress reaction on the inner shin bone - and stress fractures. Changing hormones
can play a role in these issues too, with low oestrogen affecting healing and recovery. It’s important to keep up the weight bearing and resistance exercise, calcium intake, maintaining energy levels and Vitamin D levels to maintain bone health. If you have a strong family or personal history of these issues and osteoporosis, it’s important to discuss the impact your hormones have on
your bones and how to manage your bone health with your Physio and GP.
Keep the spring in your step
A recent Finnish study of over 900 women showed that menopausal status is associated with reduced muscle strength, power and ability to jump vertically. Running well is dependent on this strength, ability to generate force quickly and how well we stride and push off, so performance may be affected by this. On the plus side, women who remain active do better than inactive counterparts, so the key message is that whilst your ability to bound along may drop a little, it’s best
to keep on going!
Here are 5 top tips for Menopausal Runners to help you keep running well: