The Numbers are Staggering
This joint health thing isn’t a problem for just a few people. The CDC estimates that arthritis or chronic joint symptoms affect more than 70 million Americans. Most of us either have the problem or know someone who has the problem. Here are some facts:
Types of Joint Pain
- Sprains: Tearing or stretching of ligaments. Women are more susceptible once they hit age 30.
- Tendonitis: Inflammation or irritation around a tendon. It’s typically tendonitis when you get a sharp pain when you move and symptoms typically ease with rest and get worse with increased activity.
- Osteoarthritis: Cartilage wears down around the joints, causing pain as bone rubs on bone.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis: Immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the tissue that lines the joints, causing joint and cartilage damage.
A Side Note about the Causes of Joint Pain in Women
Of the nearly 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis (OA), 60 percent are women. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, strikes approximately three times more women than men. Other autoimmune conditions that cause joint pain, such as lupus, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis (MS), also hit women harder than men: Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus, three times more likely to have scleroderma, and twice as likely to suffer from MS. And fibromyalgia, a little understood condition that can cause joint pain, affects women eight times more frequently than men.
The Estrogen-Joint Pain Connection
“Women typically feel pain more intensively, more often, and in more parts of the body than men,” says Tarvez Tucker, MD, a pain specialist and director of the Pain Clinic at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, in Lexington. Female hormones are believed to play a role in women’s high vulnerability to pain. Many women with OA, RA, lupus, and fibromyalgia report an increase in joint pain just before or during their periods. This is likely because estrogen levels plummet right before menstruation and rise again after a woman’s period is over. “Estrogen is believed to be protective against pain,” says Dr. Tucker. “It peaks during pregnancy, probably to protect women from the pain of childbirth.”
Some research shows that 80 percent of women with RA experience a remission of symptoms during pregnancy and a flare-up when estrogen dips during the postpartum period. Additionally, reproductive hormones are suspected as factors in the high incidence of autoimmune diseases in women since conditions such as RA and lupus are most common during the childbearing years.
The Amazing YOU
We love to think about the difference we can make when we start to understand the actual cause for our health problems – sometimes it’s not as mysterious as it may seem.