Want to earn continuing education credit for this article? Learn more.
Menopause is a normal aging process, occurring naturally in 25 percent of women by age 47; 50 percent by age 50; 75 percent by age 52; and 95 percent by age 55. However, menopause can occur at earlier ages as a consequence of chemotherapy, hysterectomy or other medical interventions. Although menopause is official when a woman has not menstruated for 12 consecutive months, the discomforts accompanying menopause typically begin well before this point.
Physiologically, menopause is a decline of a woman’s reproductive hormones. As a woman’s egg cell supply diminishes, menstruation ceases. This change causes the ovaries to manufacture less of estrogen and progesterone. During a woman’s reproductive years, estrogen and progesterone regulate the monthly cycles of ovulation and menstruation and prepare the uterus for pregnancy.
Estrogen is essential to the development and maturation of the female reproductive system, giving women their characteristic shape. This hormone stimulates skeletal growth, helps maintain healthy bones and plays an active role in protecting the cardiovascular system by increasing HDL (high-density lipoproteins, the “good” cholesterol) levels. Through its influence on the brain, estrogen is thought to be important in memory and healthy functioning of nerve cells.
Progesterone is manufactured in the ovaries and the adrenal glands. It stimulates the growth of the uterine lining to support a fertilized egg, helps in the production of breast milk and maintains pregnancy. Progesterone has many metabolic influences, enhances mood elevation, is a calmative, helps reduce premenstrual syndrome and menopausal hot flashes, regulates fluid balance, encourages thyroid hormone activity and normalizes blood sugar levels. Progesterone also plays a role in restoring and maintaining libido, and helps build bone mass.
Stages of Menopause
Because the process takes place over years, menopause is commonly divided into the following two stages:
- Perimenopause – This is the time a woman begins experiencing menopausal signs and symptoms, even though she is still ovulating. During this normal process of four years or more, hormone levels rise and fall unevenly.
- Postmenopause – Once 12 months have passed since a woman’s last period, she has reached menopause. The ovaries produce much less estrogen and progesterone, and they don’t release eggs. The years that follow are called postmenopause.
Signs and Symptoms
While every woman experiences menopause differently, the most common physical and emotional changes include:
- Irregular periods
- Decreased fertility
- Vaginal and urinary changes; like dryness and incontinence
- Hot flashes
- Dry skin and headaches
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
- Night sweats and heart palpitations
- Changes in appearance, primarily fluid weight gain
- Emotional and cognitive changes including mood swings, depression and forgetfulness
Massage therapy has the unique ability to improve many of these symptoms without the side effects of western medicine’s pharmaceutical solutions.
While many consider menopause to be a right of passage, each woman must cope with its physical and emotional manifestations. Bodyworkers are in an ideal position to listen to their clients during this change, present relevant facts they have learned and offer a supportive and nurturing touch. Bodywork has the potential to cause a release of good-feeling endorphins, alleviate headaches, reduce stress, help regulate the body’s fluid balance and re-balance hormone levels. Several styles of massage therapy provide significant therapeutic value to counter menopause’s hormonal shift:
- Swedish Massage – Research has demonstrated that the more stress in a woman’s life, the more severe her menopausal symptoms. This modality’s relaxation qualities make it a top choice to include for a menopausal client.
- Reflexology – Some of the points used in foot reflexology may help restore hormonal balance: kidney, adrenal gland, pituitary, brain, uterus, thyroid, heart and liver.
- Acupressure – Traditional Chinese Medicine views menopause as a natural decline in Kidney and Spleen energies. Acupressure to tonify these meridians can bring the client back into hormonal balance. Additionally, working on the liver meridian will enhance overall energetic flow, thus reducing stress.
While various types of alternative treatments can support a woman through her menopausal transition, few cover as many aspects of health as massage therapy. The easing of stress, reduction in fluid imbalance and the balancing of hormones as a result of regular, nurturing, massage sessions can make this natural process a positive and powerful experience for your menopausal clients.
Earn continuing education credit for this article contained in our Women & Massage series. Click here to enroll.