- Menopause increases risk of back pain and lumbar disc degeneration.
- But, young men were more susceptible to disc degeneration than pre-menopausal women.
- Evidence strongly supports the involvement of estrogen deficiency in disc degeneration, as well as the benefits of hormone therapy.
Both men and women experience back pain due to aging and lumbar disc degeneration. A new study out of China suggests that menopause is associated with severity of disc degeneration in the lumbar spine.
Available evidence strongly supports the involvement of estrogen deficiency in disc degeneration, as well as the benefits of hormone therapy (HT) on the total lumbar disc height in postmenopausal women.
‘Menopause is associated with more severe disc degeneration due to decreasing levels of estrogen and so hormone therapy for such women might reduce back pain and other symptoms.’
Multiple studies have previously investigated the association between menopause and lumbar disc degeneration; however, the study detailed in the article "Association between menopause and lumbar disc degeneration: an MRI study of 1,566 women and 1,382 men" is the first known to include a portion of age-matched men as a comparison group.
Menopause - What is it?
Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 55 and is a natural biological event in a woman's life. However, some woman experience it sooner i.e. before the age of 40 and this is called 'Premature Menopause'.
Symptoms Related to menopause
Some women experience no symptoms, while others experience mild to severe symptoms like hot flashes, night sweating, mood swings and vaginal dryness.
Natural menopause requires no treatment. However, hormone therapy with estrogen along with certain diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce the severity of the symptoms of menopause.
The symptoms of menopause are caused by changes in estrogen and progesterone levels and can last for up to 5-years or more. As the ovaries become less functional, they produce less estrogen/progesterone and the body subsequently reacts.
A gradual decrease of estrogen allows the body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes during menopause, but in some women a sudden decrease in estrogen level occurs.
Do Men Experience Disc Degeneration?
Study results document how men and women fare with regard to disc degeneration, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging, as they age.
Whereas young, age-matched men were more susceptible to disc degeneration than premenopausal women. Postmenopausal women had a significant tendency to develop more severe disc degeneration than age-matched men compared with premenopausal and perimenopausal women.
The most dramatic difference was seen in the first 15 years after menopause onset, although the authors note that further studies are needed to determine whether age or menopause plays a more important role in the progression of disc degeneration in the lumbar spine.
"This study shows that menopause is associated with more severe disc degeneration," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of NAMS.
"Prevention of disc degeneration of the lumbar spine may be another potential benefit for symptomatic menopausal women who may be candidates for hormone therapy."
- JoAnn Pinkerton et al., Loss of estrogen a risk factor for disc degeneration and lower back pain, Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society (2017)