Can the ebb and flow of your hormones affect the pain you feel in your joints or back? I think so. I have noticed for years that my knees were more vulnerable to injury and pain after my cycle. Even most professional waxing studios recommend that you don’t wax for the week leading up and the week of your period because you feel more pain sensitivity then. Obviously, this applies to women, not necessarily to men. Although, for men, there are different hormones, but as you will read below, we all still have the same blood and qi circulation that can affect pain. You can also read more about testosterone here.
- In the week leading up to the menstrual cycle, estrogen decreases.
- Typically, right after the menstrual cycle begins (day 1 or 2), the estrogen levels rise again, and most women feel better. Healthy amounts of estrogen make you feel sexy (so much for the outdated notion that a menstruating woman is cranky) and optimistic. Too much estrogen, however, has a dark side. Cancer, for one, is a side-effect of too much estrogen. Also, dis-eases of blood stagnation such as stoke are more likely with too much estrogen in the body. Arthritis has been known to flare up with higher-than-optimal levels of estrogen in the body.
To tell you the truth, all the talk about estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone makes my head spin. In traditional Chinese medicine, thousands of years ago, they had no idea there were these magical little molecules called “hormones” in our bodies affecting so many body functions. What they did know was that there was blood, circulation of the blood, and – over time – a gradual and natural depletion of the blood. There was also the qi – which is the “energy” in the blood (otherwise known as oxygen). If a woman (or man) takes care to preserve their blood and qi through a healthy lifestyle, you will age gracefully. The menopausal woman ceases to have her period, and that’s that.
You can think of the estrogen like the blood supply. Progesterone is like the qi. For the hormone thing to make sense to me, I have to take it back to Chinese medicine. You’ve got to have both in proper amounts to feel your best. Progesterone is the precursor to estrogen and testosterone. In Chinese medicine, your Spleen (digestive) qi actually turns your food into blood.
After menses, your blood has to rebuild, so estrogen gradually rises. At ovulation, the blood supply that has built back up since the last menses is ready to, well, make a baby! Everything is full and lush. Then progesterone rises. The progesterone, or qi, rises to “hold” everything in place. They say, the qi holds the blood in the vessels. Strong qi ensures that the baby will grow and stay in the womb. If the egg is fertilized, the progesterone / qi stays strong to hold the pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, the progesterone drops and estrogen drops and menses starts.
Where imbalance happens:
1. Pain gets worse before the cycle: the blood is stagnant. Either the circulation is just not good, or there is some anemia leading to the stagnant blood. Higher-than-average estrogen levels could be the underlying cause of the stagnation. This so-called “estrogen dominance” is also the cause of fluid retention, which also underlies many types of arthritis, joint pain, and tension. Before the cycle, estrogen should be decreased, but xeno-estrogens (meaning environmental or toxic estrogens) do not change.
2. Pain gets worse after the cycle: the blood supply is deficient and therefore does not nourish the joints and muscles. When estrogen / blood should be building, it is not. It could also mean that the progesterone / qi is insufficient to produce enough estrogen / blood. In this case, there may be a skipped period.
How to fix it:
1. Exercise and a healthy diet.
- Avoid meat and dairy products that are not hormone-free.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables for the iron and detoxification capabilities.
- If you eat grains, eat whole grains such as quinoa, oats, or rice and avoid processed grains that are found in most breads, cereals, and pastas.
- Reduce your sugar intake (except some dark chocolate!).
- Make a conscious effort to move a little bit every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be killing yourself on the treadmill. If it was, even I would avoid it! Find some movements you enjoy on a regular basis and fit them into your schedule.
- Avoid carcinogenic estrogens as much as possible.
2. Supplements such as iron, b-vitamins, progesterone cream, or Chinese herbs may help. Get enough rest and sleep. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet.
How about you? Have you noticed that your joint pain gets worse before, during, or after your period? Have you tried anything to stop it yet?