Leg troubles are not usually the first symptoms that we typically associate with the menopause, but there is actually a well-established link between the reproductive transition and our lower limbs. Food Scientist and Nutritional Therapist Susie Debice explains why, and what can be done.
Menopause symptoms — which are the first ones that spring to mind? I’d wager it’s most likely hot flushes, low libido or irregular periods.
Some other symptoms we may experience, however, are seemingly harder to associate with the process. Have you experienced any of the following?
- Heavy, aching legs
- Restless legs
- Leg cramps
- Leg swelling
- Varicose veins
- Hot legs
Indeed, it’s actually fairly common for the menopause to cause us one or two leg troubles. If you’re suddenly not feeling as light on your feet as you used to be, there’s a reason — and a solution. Let’s discuss.
Menopause leg aches and heavy, tired lower limbs — it’s down to circulation
We all expect achy and tired legs after a workout or a long walk — that’s completely normal — but if they’re feeling heavy and tired for no reason, then this could be to do with your menopause.
Perhaps you feel like you are walking through treacle, or that your legs feel weighed down. Every step seems to take an incredible amount of effort and energy. You could be suffering from heavy leg syndrome.
If your legs ache during the menopause, it can also be associated with varicose veins — which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Like the majority of the symptoms we experience during the menopause, it’s down to the profound power of fluctuating hormone levels.
Declining oestrogen can create changes in the circulation to your legs; muscles and cells may not be getting the same amount or consistency of oxygen and fuel, leaving them feeling tired and heavy.
So, menopause leg aches — what can be done?
It’s known that being overweight can be a contributing factor, so embarking on a new healthy eating and increased activity plan is a good start.
Sitting or standing for long periods of time can contribute to the problem; set an hourly alarm on your watch or phone so that you can regularly take a 5–10 minute break.
This switch in movement will help to support blood circulation and alleviate the menopause leg swelling or leg ache you’re experiencing.
Dehydration can be a culprit. Make sure you’re adequately hydrated, and follow our other top tips for managing your fluid balance.
Also, either at the end of the day, or even in the middle of day, elevating your legs helps to drain fluid and refresh the circulation. This releases pressure that could be building up and creating a sensation of heaviness.
Unsettling, throbbing menopause leg pain? It could be restless leg syndrome
You might be feeling tired and exhausted, but your legs are telling a different story. During the menopause, many women experience tingling or an uncomfortable throbbing, jittery, crawling or shaky sensation in their legs. It can even be painful.
If you notice that you’re feeling an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, you’re probably familiar with the aptly-named restless legs syndrome (RLS) brought on by the menopause. Again, it’s usually down to falling oestrogen levels affecting our circulation.
RLS is considered a disorder of the nervous system which impacts on the muscles in the legs. A restless night’s sleep caused by this can feed back into the cycle, weakening our immune system.
As well as supporting normal muscle function, the mineral magnesium found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and avocados, contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system. Supplementing with the mineral may help settle your legs, so you can feel more comfortable.
Stress and anxiety can also enhance RLS, so finding ways to relax may help to allay your symptoms. Meditation, massage and soaking in a warm bath may help you unwind.
Menopause leg cramps — it could be a magnesium deficiency
Muscle cramps before bed can be a nightmare, and they can appear as a result of the menopause process. This can also manifest itself as pins and needles.
As with RLS, menopause leg cramps often point towards a magnesium deficiency. Crucial for muscle relaxation, many menopausal women lack this important nutrient; falling oestrogen levels can affect how efficiently our bodies take it up.
Hormonal fluctuations can also cause the stress hormone cortisol to increase, with the added tension adding to the potential for muscle cramps.
As well as potentially supplementing, consider incorporating some of these high-in-magnesium foods…
- Green leafy vegetables
- Nuts — particularly almonds
- Dairy products.
For these menopause leg cramps, the application of a magnesium spray can also provide some short-term relief. A nice, warm bath or shower can also sooth the muscles.
Menopause leg swelling and varicose veins? Check in on your diet
The arteries, veins and capillaries which carry blood around your body contain valves, ensuring that the blood flows in the right direction. Falling oestrogen levels during the menopause can cause these valves and the walls of these blood vessels to lose strength.
This results in blood collecting in certain areas, creating a rippled, misshapen and discoloured effect under the skin — known as varicose veins.
Over time, these areas may become swollen and enlarged, contributing greatly to menopause leg pain. Surgery may be your only option if you want to remove these veins, but focusing on fuelling your body with the right foods can minimise the risk of menopause swollen legs and varicose veins appearing.
Both omega-3 and vitamin C help to support the integrity of blood vessel walls and normal circulation. Foods rich in omega-3 include:
- Oily fish
- Flax oil
- Chia seeds
Some foods high in vitamin C are:
- Citrus fruits
- Green leafy vegetables
Daily supplementation is also a viable strategy for menopausal women to bolster their intake of these essential nutrients.
The ‘orange peel’ appearance of cellulite
As you progress into the menopause, you may start to notice that your skin has that tell-tale lumpy, bumpy, dimpled effect attributed to cellulite. As with all menopause-induced psychical, emotional and psychological changes, it’s down to hormones.
Changes in oestrogen levels are thought to be associated with a loss of collagen from connective tissue; less collagen means thinner skin, changing the appearance of fat and fluid when it is deposited under the skin.
Lymphatic circulation is also affected by changing hormone levels. Stagnant lymph and weakened connective tissue are a recipe for the appearance of cellulite.
To help minimise menopause leg cellulite, supplement with vitamin C and hydrolysed collagen peptides — these both support collagen renewal and replenishment. Dry skin brushing may also help to facilitate lymphatic drainage, and avoiding sitting for long periods of time can be helpful for circulation.
Diet and lifestyle play a big role in easing our journey through the menopause, so focusing on eating clean whenever possible will bring multi-faceted benefits — including reducing the chance of cellulite-forming fat around our legs.
As ever, this means hitting your 5-a-day, drinking plenty of water and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, processed food and saturated fat, all of which can cause menopause cravings.
Menopause hot legs? Keep your circulation and fluid up
Hormones are a peculiar thing, capable of affecting us in rather unusual ways.
It’s certainly not unheard of for women during the menopause to complain of rather warm lower limbs — in particular, hot, puffy legs, ankles and feet when falling asleep. They often accompany night sweats.
Again, it’s down to those fluctuations in hormones causing poor circulation. Keep that circulation going! Staying hydrated and making sure you’re not too sedentary for long periods during the day are the winning tickets here.
If it’s accompanied by aches and pains in your joints, it could be down to uric acid build up; consider nettle tea in this case.
Your menopause — it doesn’t have to be a pain in the legs
Keeping our pins feeling tip-top during the menopause needs to be no more complicated than a few simple changes. So, if you’re experiencing troublesome menopause leg pain, cramps, swelling or aching, the following is always a good place to start.
- Incorporate magnesium — you might be deficient
- Stay on top of your water intake (for more on this read our blog post on water retention and the menopause)
- Clean up your diet where possible
- Ensure good circulation to your legs
- Take steps to minimise stress, including daily exercise
Many women in the perimenopause and menopause also find supplementation useful; something like Cleanmarine Menomin is great for providing all-in-one support.
For tailored lifestyle and dietary adjustments, a nutritional therapist will also be able to advise on your specific situation.
Of course, for any particularly worrisome leg troubles, it’s always worth consulting a medical professional.