Part 4: Aches, Pains & Weight Gain
Remember that injury from your young adulthood when you thought you were still invincible? While you’d probably prefer to forget it, the tendency with peri-menopause is for old injuries to return with a vengeance. If not something specific that you recall with a dramatic story of adventure, the aches from daily, repetitive irritation to your body begin to announce themselves with age.
Most peri-menopausal women will begin to notice an increase in aches and pains. Simultaneously, many women experience a gradual increase in weight, which provides an added burden to the joints. Arthritis surfaces at this time, and what may have been an easy-to-ignore irritation, now shows up day after day. The accumulation of injury and assault to the body over time no longer can be compensated for, or suppressed in the same way that the body was able to manage it before.
Put into simplified terms, the symptoms of menopause are a result of inflammation. While it is a theme that inflammation is a main culprit for many illnesses, the musculoskeletal system is a region where it is easy to see the relationships. Why it persists, is the mystery to examine.
Acute inflammation is the process of the body’s attempt to heal itself after a trauma. This is functional and serves the body well. For example, an ankle twisted while hiking will immediately swell, blood flow increases to the area to both infiltrate it with white blood cells and oxygen, as well as to deposit materials to assist in stabilizing and healing the injured tissue. Acute inflammation clears out in a few days, having done its job so the tissue can return to normal.
Chronic inflammation is another story, and results in long-term health problems. This sort of inflammation results from persistent irritation to body tissues for a variety of reasons. An injury that is not given proper time to heal, such as an ankle sprain put right back to use or tennis elbow where stress is experienced in the same region again and again, will both result in chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation acts similarly to acute, except that the ongoing infiltration of the tissue destroys the tissue rather than heals. The prolonged infiltration creates fibrosis and impedes the blood flow to the area, limiting the healing process.
In addition to proper rest, an injury requires numerous components to heal.
Oxygen – oxygen fuels our metabolic exchange and is critical for tissue healing. Tissue oxygenation can be improved with the following:
Improve cardiovascular function – have your Doctor evaluate your heart function routinely, especially if you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, or heart attacks.
Remove obstacles – exercise daily to increase circulation and respiration, at least 30 minutes walking, biking, or all the many ways to enjoy the world. Exercising outdoors is important!
Breathe clear air – most homes have more toxic indoor air pollution than some of our dirtiest cities in the US. Carpets, paints, building materials, etc. all have persistent off-gassing chemicals released into the spaces they create. Using an air filter and choosing non-toxic items is important for the health of our families.
Reduce tissue acidity – when our bodies have a reduction in oxygen, we can create a vicious cycle of inflammation due to the acidity that results. Other factors that contribute to tissue acidity include stress, cigarettes, coffee, alcohol, red meat, and poor rest.
Circulation – waste elimination in addition to the components required for healing is an essential piece. One of the main reasons that tendons and ligaments are so slow to heal is because they are not tissues that have much circulatory exchange.
Enhancing circulation is the main goal of hydrotherapy treatments, which will increase healing times.
When it comes to chronic inflammation, applying either heat or cold packs alone can result in increased stagnation, which limits long-term improvement.
A simple therapy for improving circulation is to alternate heat and cold to the region of pain, or to the whole body. The basic recipe is three minutes hot, thirty seconds cold. Enhance the experience with the infrared sauna for a combined benefit of the infrared rays on pain management and the hydrotherapy effect of improved circulation.
Proper Nutrients – muscle relaxation depends upon magnesium to facilitate the release of contraction. Persistent spasm or aching is a common experience of magnesium deficiency. Additionally, this is one of our most deficient nutrients in most Americans’ diets. Selenium is a basic nutrient essential for cellular regeneration, which is what the muscle cells are doing each day with tissue repair. Manganese is essential for the formation of healthy cartilage. All together, we need to have adequate nutritional intake and digestive function to support our musculoskeletal system.
Getting the proper pieces in place can assist in the body’s healing once and for all. While a low-grade inflammatory process can exist for decades unnoticed, the harm is still happening. The menopausal changes to the body’s inflammatory process allows women to have the direct experience of when they may be doing too much or needing to shift routine to support better health.
Weight gain during menopause is related to the decline of what we know in Chinese medicine to be the kidney yang energy, or reproductive force. This aspect of our vitality not only provides the energy for creating new life and sexual function, it also provides our daily vim and vigor. Living a high energy, stressful life routine can deplete this energy early in life. Once again, the dramatic changes that occur with menopause allow the body to experience the result of the processes that have actually been going on for a very long time. Restoration of the kidney yang is possible, not to the point of reproduction but to restore the daily energy and metabolic function.
All of the components for restoring musculoskeletal health also pertain to weight loss. However, with this energy decline, exercise is often the worst thing we can do. Not a leisurely stroll or bike ride around town, but the pushing of oneself to accomplish a 10k when not having run in years. Restoration of this energy predominantly occurs with rest. Establishing a new set of parameters for how energy is utilized and shifting nutritional patterns are essential components.
For more information on assisting the hormonal transition and all the experiences that come along with it, please contact Dr. Sara Hart at Stillwater Clinic in Lyons.
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