Another little-spoken-about aspect of menopause is back pain. And now that working from home is a Thing, I’m guessing back pain is going to be on the increase.
Back pain is horrible. It makes simple things like loading the dishwasher or putting on socks an agony. And it’s a real damper on mood.
The good news is that there are things you can do right now at home to help you mend faster.
Back pain – triggers
I hurt my back recently, from a combination of standing immobile at my computer too long, plus a drop in regular exercise, plus slouching into the optician’s eye testing machines… ouch . Most back pain goes away with time and exercise.
Other triggers are: too soft a mattress, sitting with knees above hips, Netflix slouch marathons, picking up heavy boxes, wearing handbags on the same shoulder, too much computer mouse or sitting twisted at a desk, holding a phone to your ear with your shoulder… it is usually some sort of postural things. Other factors are inactivity and overweight.
Menopause joint pain
During menopause when hormones change, it’s even more important to eat anti inflammatory foods like garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon. Inflammation is linked to other dis-eases. Joint pain is worse during times of stress, dehydration or when overweight. And poor posture and lack of exercise can cause pain too.
What to do for back pain:
Get a mattress topper or replace your mattress
Use a hot water bottle at night – I put one under my buttocks and find that tips the pelvis slightly and reduces pain in my back.
Listen to interview with Ashtanga yoga teacher Stephen Harding
Get your significant other to rub your back. You can rub through your clothes or apply an essential oil blend to your skin. When lockdown is over, get a professional aromatherapy massage.
Make your workspace as ergonomic as possible. Raise your screen to eye height. Check that your mouse mat is comfortable.
Take regular breaks from the computer (aim for every 20 minutes) Some people use timers to remind themselves. I forget about it until I am in pain.
Stay active. Walking is free and easy – you can go at your own pace and listen to audio or podcasts as you go.
Use a wedge cushion or lumbar support when you sit in the car or at your desk. My mother in law takes her wedge cushion with her everywhere – to tea shops, on the train, so she is never caught out on a dodgy seat.
Buy an orthopaedic pillow to keep your spine straight. Experiment with the filling – some use really firm types of memory foam that I find squashes my ears too much.
Speak to your doctor if you have kidney pain.
Practice the super comfy yoga move suggested below (It also improves sleep and reduces anxiety)
When lockdown is over see a physiotherapist or acupuncturist. Of course in acupuncture, lower back pain is often an energetic imbalance of the Spleen energy.
Prevention is better than cure. Eliminate or reduce the triggers.
I have also found that when my bowels are not functioning properly, my back hurts, so yes I know I should be having more exercise, more fibre etc.
Yoga and back pain
I asked Rachel Trevallion, who is trained in Ashtanga Yoga, about yoga, menopause and back pain. She says that ‘According to Yoga As Medicine, many yogis and an increasing part of the scientific community believe that stress plays a “significant role” in the intensity of menopausal symptoms. Consequently, reducing stress and calming the CNS (central nervous symptom) can help reduce hot flushes and mood swings.
The combination of yoga poses (asana), pranayama (breath work), restorative poses and meditation is particularly effective in minimising the effects of stress.
Menopause is a time of great change, passing from the phase of fertility into the time of matriarchy, where the body retains its blood and offers wisdom in its place. Meeting change is a spiritual issue. Yoga, breath, meditation and gentle mindfulness help meet the denial, anger and resistance that can be a natural reaction to change. Yoga’s emphasis on meeting challenges with grace, gratitude and acceptance are an antidote to any negative, judgmental or self-defeating attitudes.’
Here is Rachel’s go-to exercise for menopausal women with back pain. (Oh it’s sooo comforting.. it evens improves sleep and reduces anxiety! Do try it tonight)
Pose to Support Menopausal Symptoms:
Viparita Karani – Legs Up The Wall Pose
Benefits: An incredibly restorative pose which supports the endocrine (hormonal) system, aids lymphatic drainage, supports healthy circulation. All round de-stressing and superbly regenerating.
How To: Place a bolster, thick cushion, or two folded blankets about 15cm from the wall. Sit towards the bolster with your side facing the wall, press your hands onto the bolster to hold it in place. Swing your legs up and onto the wall and let them rest against it. Lower your upper body back using your arms for support, scoot your pelvis into place so that just the bottom of your tailbone is hanging off the bolster. You will be in a very gentle and mild backbend. Ensure your weight is on your shoulders and hips, and that your head and neck are comfortable and relaxed. If you start to lose circulation in your feet or legs simply come down earlier, or cross your legs, keeping your hips where they are.
Rest in this pose for five to fifteen minutes.
To come down, bend your knees and use your feet to push off the wall to bring your buttocks to the floor, in front of the bolster or blankets. Use your arms to help you sit up.