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“There is no more creative force in the world than the menopausal woman with zest.”  ~Margaret Mead

Menopause represents a rite of passage that opens a door to a new phase of life. This stage encompasess a large percentage of our lives as women and often represents a time of the most career productivity and growth into knowledge and wisdom. Though these changes in the body may seem at times unfair, insurmountable and uncomfortable – gracefully managing this transition is within our reach.

Menopause has three stages. ‘Perimenopause’ represents the 8-10 years of transition from reproduction to the end of menstruation (ages 40-50 typically).  The second phase is the point at which menstruation has not occurred for 12 months and is called ‘Menopause.’  Stage three is termed ‘Postmenopause’ and is defined as the period of time after 12 months without menstruation.

The stages of menopause begin as the ovaries make less of the hormone estrogen.  Estrogen works in conjunction with progesterone to control menstruation, influence calcium and maintain cholesterol levels in the blood.  Estrogen is responsible for skin and hair health, regulating mood, and normal sleep.  When the hormone shift occurs, physiologic changes lead to common concerns that can arise, including joint and muscle pain, mood swings, body composition and weight changes, hot flashes/night sweats, insomnia, difficulty with normal bowel and bladder function, discomfort with and desire for physical intimacy, decreased concentration and memory, cardiovascular changes, altered physical and athletic performance and hair loss. 

How do these changes impact our health and function?

*Decreased bone density, along with diminishing balance, increases the risk of falling and fractures.

*Changes in cholesterol blood levels can cause increased stress to the heart, elevating the risk of heart disease.

*Fat mass gain, in particular increased abdominal fats and flaccid lean mass, create concerns with aesthetic changes in appearance and also increase risks to overall health.

*Bowel and bladder function, and intimacy, are affected and can be a cause for shifts in relationships, discomfort with social and recreational activities, and negative impact on physical fitness and athletics.

*Insomnia is linked to hot flashes/night sweats, mood changes and depression.

This all sounds like a lot of bad news, but the good news is that these symptoms can all be managed and quality of life preserved so that this very important and beautiful phase of life can be realized. Here are several ways managing symptoms can occur:

    • Physical therapy effectively addresses the symptoms and physical changes impacting function and quality of life. There is a distinct specialty practice for women’s health with services including thorough evaluation, hands-on manual therapy, individualized exercise, self-management programs, and guidance for athletes in order to address the concerning physical symptoms associated with menopause.
    • There are many medical intervention options, including hormone management, which includes choices of hormone replacement techniques, bioidenticals, and topical agents.  
    • Attention to food and nutrition is an essential component for graceful management of the physical transitions. Not only is it non-invasive and accessible, it has the power and capacity to improve many aspects of the common symptoms of menopause. 
    • Safe fitness activities serve as bone and muscle builders, improved cardiovascular fitness, better balance, restorative sleep, mood management, and mental boosting.  

    For more information on how to help with the journey through menopause, the Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC) pelvic health rehab team and Dr. Lydia Segal offer a FREE six-week summer workshop on this topic, titled ‘Menopause: Before, During and After’. Classes cover physical therapy and medical interventions, nutrition, cardiovascular health and movement techniques.  

    ‘Menopause: Before, During and After’ takes place Tuesdays from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m., starting July 19 through August 23.

    To find out more details, and to register, call 719-530-2040.

    (Classes take place in the outdoor exercise gazebo at HRRMC, class size is limited to 20 and COVID-19 precautions will be followed based on the current county guidelines and conditions.)

     Editor’s note: A column provided by Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, written by Sarah Hudelson, PT, DPT

    Featured image: Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, June 2022. Dan Smith photo.