Understanding Joint Pain in Women with Dr Shallu Verma

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Partha Protim Choudhury

The silent struggle of joint pain in women often goes unnoticed, yet it is a relentless companion that can disrupt the harmony of daily lives. These persistent discomforts restrict mobility, turning even the simplest tasks into daunting challenges. So, if you are facing these challenges, this conversation is specifically designed for your concerns.

Dr Shallu Verma is a rheumatology expert, with an experience of more than 17 years. Dr Shallu has extensive experience managing patients at prestigious hospitals like Sir Gangaram Hospital and ISIC Vasant Kunj. She is a specialist in using the most recent treatment strategies such as biologics to treat all varieties of arthritis, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions. Additionally, Dr Shallu holds the European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology Fellowship and currently practices at the Metro Heart Institute and Multispecialty Hospital in Faridabad.

Why do women experience joint pain more frequently?

Dr Shallu Verma: You are right. Women are the backbone of both family and society. However, they still endure significant suffering, particularly in their back and other joints. Indeed, the prevalence of joint pain is notably high among women, influenced by various factors including social, genetic, and physical aspects. Women tend to have less muscle and bone mass compared to men due to their lean physique, making them more susceptible to diseases like osteoporosis.

Hormones play a crucial role in women’s health, especially during fertile periods, pregnancy, delivery, and menopause. During menopause, oestrogen levels plummet, resulting in rapid bone weakening and an increased risk of osteoporosis and related ailments like rheumatological illnesses and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions often cause inflammation and joint pain, with a higher tendency to affect women compared to men.

Furthermore, societal factors contribute to women’s health issues, as many women prioritise caring for their families over their well-being. Unfortunately, society often overlooks women’s health concerns. Hence, it is imperative to prioritize both physical and reproductive health among women. Nowadays, this has become a topic of growing concern.

Do women in rural areas experience joint pain at a different rate than those in urban areas?

Dr Shallu Verma: See, there is a difference. We have observed a lot in our practice. Among the rural population, one positive aspect is that women there are very active in household work and fieldwork alongside men, engaging in physical labour, which generally contributes to good bone strength. Exercise plays a significant role in increasing bone strength, joint flexibility, and muscle strength among rural women.

Conversely, in urban areas, women are often engaged in office work or are housewives relying on helpers for household chores, leading to significantly less physical activity. Few women in urban areas prioritise regular exercise or gym visits, resulting in a lack of physical fitness. This lack of exercise is a notable drawback for urban women. Additionally, among poorer sections of the rural population, women often have poor nutrition, whereas urban women, especially those with regular socioeconomic status, typically have better access to nutritious food. However, urban life also presents challenges such as a lack of exercise and an increase in junk food consumption. The current societal trend leans towards unhealthy eating habits.

Overall, urban women tend to suffer more from joint pains and bone health issues compared to rural women due to the combination of sedentary lifestyles and poor dietary habits.

Does stress contribute to joint pain in women?

Dr Shallu Verma: Yeah, stress plays a significant role. Nowadays, a lot of research has been conducted on neurotransmitters and the musculoskeletal system concerning neurotransmission. Individuals experiencing constant mental and physical stress have constantly active neurotransmitters. Consequently, muscles and nerve signals in pain areas are consistently triggered, leading to stiffness and persistent pain. This pain exacerbates stress, creating a vicious cycle that is challenging to break.

To break this cycle, engaging in regular exercise is highly beneficial. Seeking help from psychologists or physiotherapists can also be beneficial, and family support is crucial in managing stress. Moreover, increased stress triggers the release of stress hormones, which further contribute to joint pain. Therefore, stress indeed plays a pivotal role in exacerbating joint pain.

What key warning signs should women be vigilant for, signalling the need for medical attention regarding their joint pain?

Dr Shallu Verma: When it comes to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, they exhibit very distinctive features. Firstly, it’s important to note that arthritis, especially inflammatory arthritis, is not exclusive to old age; it can affect younger women as well, even those as young as 25 or 30. Women in this age group should not ignore joint pains. One of the primary indicators is experiencing pain and stiffness in the finger joints or wrist in the morning, which tends to subside with movement. Additionally, they may find it difficult to bend forward or get out of bed without support due to stiffness. Swelling around the finger joints may also be present. Some women may experience back stiffness upon waking or heel pain when standing up in the morning, which could be indicative of arthritis.

Similarly, older women or those who have recently given birth may develop inflammation in various parts, especially the pelvic area. This can occur due to stress, as ligaments tend to stretch post-stress. In such cases, consulting a doctor is advisable. Women should also take care of their knees as they age. In some instances, back pain may radiate to the legs and toes, suggesting nerve compression in the back area. If a woman experiences any such symptoms, seeking medical intervention is essential.

Dr Shallu Verma: The most important thing is awareness. A woman must know when to consult a doctor. If she experiences any of the symptoms I mentioned, she should see a doctor, preferably a rheumatologist. Diet is crucial. Ensure you consume a calcium-rich, protein-rich diet and avoid random supplementation. Vitamin D deficiency is common in India, so taking vitamin D supplements under a doctor’s advice is advisable. If you have conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or autoimmune diseases such as thyroid or arthritis, follow your doctor’s prescribed medications as these can affect bone health.

While there are many nutritional supplements available, including protein, calcium, and vitamin supplements, I don’t recommend excessive supplementation. A balanced diet should suffice, although in some cases, supplements may be necessary and prescribed. Women nearing menopausal age should increase their calcium and protein intake. Additionally, regular physical exercise is crucial. In addition to prescribed medications, ensure you address these aspects of health.

How can women proactively manage and prevent joint pain, considering factors like hormones, genetics and lifestyle choices?

Dr Shallu Verma: Yes, definitely. Prevention is key and should be our primary focus. Starting from puberty, young girls should be encouraged to adopt habits like yoga, stretching, and exercises to maintain joint flexibility. It’s crucial to monitor weight, especially for women, considering their lower bone strength and shorter frame. Excessive weight can increase the strain on weight-bearing joints like ankles and knees. Women around the age of 40 should opt for English-style lavatories instead of Indian ones to avoid prolonged squatting, which can accelerate joint wear and tear. Similarly, women in this age group should limit stair use. Pay attention to footwear choices, opting for sports shoes over heels whenever possible.

How can improved health literacy raise awareness about women’s joint pain and empower them to make informed decisions regarding their bone health?

Dr Shallu Verma: You’re playing a significant role in this. Just like your programme, there should be many more similar programmes. Nowadays, instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media, we should actively seek out health tips. There are numerous quality health magazines available, and even newspapers have sections dedicated to health. It’s important to consider which doctor to consult if you’re dealing with a specific condition like rheumatoid arthritis. Often, people randomly visit any nearby doctor, which is quite negligent. Health-related content is abundant on platforms like YouTube and the internet that can help individuals understand disease symptoms and find the appropriate medical advice. Increasing awareness through these avenues is crucial.

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