What are the symptoms of the menopause transition?
'The NHS website states that the average age for women to reach menopause is fifty one and that women can experience menopausal symptoms years before their periods stop (peri menopause) and 'on average, most symptoms last for four years after their last period'. The body's change from child bearing to post menopause, the menopause transition, can often take more than a decade.
The symptoms of menopause are listed by menopause specialist Dr Louise R Newson, on her website menopausedoctor.co.uk. The symptoms are:
Massage can not cure these symptoms but it can support and be beneficial to women living with some these symptoms. Many women find it an incredibly difficult and long period in their lives. The nurturing and stress relieving properties of massage can be a great comfort whilst their hormones, body and mind readjust to a new stage of life. Massage can also have positive effects on some of the mental and physical symptoms of menopause.
How can massage help women with menopausal symptoms?
The hormonal changes during the women's menopausal transition can cause the joints to stiffen and ache due to the reduction of estrogen in the body. Estrogen is needed for collagen, which is used to build joint cartilage. With this stiffening comes a reduction in movement and and a loss of flexibility. When joints are stiff and painful we are inclined to use them less. Joints need movement to stay healthy as they have no blood supply. The joints get their nourishment from the fluid within the joint capsule. Full movement of the joint ensures the fluid reaches all areas of the joint, helping it to stay healthy. Lack of movement causes the fluid to thicken which stiffens the joint and hinders movement. Massage around the joint, particularly massage with movement, therefore will help maintain flexibility. Lower back pain around the sacroiliac joint is common in the menopausal transition and can be significantly reduced with massage.
REDUCED MUSCLE MASS
Menopause causes muscles to loose muscle mass, as estrogen is also needed to for the collagen in muscles. Massage does not increase muscle mass but it can support muscle health. Massage can stimulate restricted muscle fibres and increases the blood supply to muscle fibre cells. As blood brings the nutrients to the muscle cells this helps to promote muscle health. When we have healthy, less painful and restricted muscles we are more likely to engage in the activities which build muscle mass.
CHANGE IN SKIN CONDITION
Skin can loose it elasticity and become drier and thinner during menopausal period, this is caused by a reduction in elastin and collagen as the estrogen levels drop. This can also mean less blood flow to the skin and therefore less nutrients and water. As a result the skin dries, becomes more wrinkled and less glowing. Massage stimulates the blood flow to the skin cells and so helps promote skin health. Natural massage waxes and oils also provide nourishment and moisture to the skin.
TIREDNESS AND POOR SLEEP
Changes in the levels of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone during peri menopause and menopause have a big impact on women's quality and amount of sleep. This can be incredibly stressful and damaging for women's health as it effects their mood, energy and concentration levels. Time awake at night can increase stress, as it is a time to worry, Women can experience months and often years of poor sleep which can lead to chronic stress. Massage can reduce stress and promotes relaxation. The positive and nurturing touch of massage encourages the body to switch from the sympathetic nervous system (stressed state) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and restore state). This can halt chronic stress and provides the body with an opportunity to return to restorative homeostasis, the state in which the body can function most effectively. This reduction in stress can boost sleep, aid concentration and help women feel stronger and more able to deal with their changing hormonal symptoms.
INCREASED ANXIETY, NIGHT SWEATS and HOT FLUSHES
Stress has been found to make us more sensitive to pain. It is also recognised that stressful situations and stressful thoughts increases the likelihood that a woman will experience menopausal symptoms. One study concluded 'the need for women’s healthcare providers to be alert to midlife women who may be experiencing high levels of stress or reporting concerns about aging. These women may be at risk of distressing menopausal symptoms as they transition through the stages of menopause'. Studies have shown that massage can reduce stress, so receiving regular, nurturing massage can help prevent women from experiencing the damaging effects of chronic stress. Therefore these women's hot menopausal symptoms should be reduced as their stress levels reduce.
Massage can also reduce the aches and pains in your body, it can help return movement to joints which have become restricted. These results can help women feel more positive about their bodies. The above study mentions hot menopausal symptoms can increase when women have 'concerns about ageing.' If women feel more positive in their bodies they may worry less about ageing and as a result reduce the likelihood of the menopausal symptoms.
Many women as they feel their bodies change during the menopausal transition, return to or increase the amount of exercise they do, as a way of combating the hormonal change. Women with children and demanding jobs often find it hard to fit in or find the energy for exercise. As their children become older and more independent, they need their mothers less, so the women have more time for exercise. Their muscles and joints which are also changing due to the onset of menopause can struggle with the new demands on them. Massage therapy sessions can be designed to target specific areas of pain and restriction, helping to increase movement and reduce pain, leaving women feeling more positive about their bodies ability to succeed with exercise and potentially help them worry less about ageing.
POOR CONCENTRATION AND MOOD SWINGS
Massage also provides women with a bit of space away from their busy lives. this bit of me-time can help encourage a more peaceful mind and reduce stress. The symptoms of menopause can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful and the quiet nurturing nature of massage can be very restorative and helpful in returning a positive mood.
Poor concentration is also a symptom of stress, the body is designed to not think too much and to just act in a time of stress. By settling the levels of stress in the body with massage, the mind will be able to think more clearly again.
Massage is brilliant at combating stress and helping sore muscles and joints. The effects of stress on peri menopause and menopausal symptoms, and the changes in women's muscles and joint health during the menopausal transition, means that regular massage can positively support women at this often difficult time in their lives and can potentially help reduce their life-affecting symptoms.