If your joints feel stiffer or more tender during the winter months, you’re not alone. While experts are still determining exactly how weather affects joint pain, there are a few possibilities behind the correlation. Drops in barometric pressure, for example, cause joints to expand, intensifying pain. Cooler temperatures can also cause synovial fluid to thicken, making joints stiffer and more sensitive.
No matter the root cause, people with the two most common forms of arthritis — osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis — both report feeling worse on cold, wet days. The good news is that there are steps you can take to alleviate discomfort. Here are a few to consider.
The simplest way to avoid the joint pain associated with cooler weather is to avoid getting too cold in the first place. If you live in a colder climate, this means dressing in layers when you go outdoors, and limiting time spent outside on the coldest days. Compression gloves may be particularly helpful, as they control swelling and provide heat for the hands, which tend to be common sites for arthritis pain. When indoors, consider using heat therapy by running a warm bath, applying a heating pad, or snuggling under a heated blanket.
Exercise has tremendous benefits for people with arthritis. It can control pain levels, reduce fatigue, and keep joints lubricated and flexible. The best activities for people experiencing joint pain include strengthening moves, range-of-motion activities, and low-impact aerobic activities. If you normally exercise outdoors, consider treadmill walks, stationary biking, or following along with low-impact workout videos to get your cardio in during the winter.
Stretching can alleviate pain and increase your range of motion, which may help to offset wintertime pain. A physical therapist can help you develop a tailored stretching program based on your needs and current range of motion. There are also gentle yoga programs available online if you’re considering a guided stretching program at home. Just be sure your muscles are warm before you get started: warm joints are more relaxed, which makes stretching easier.
There’s some evidence to suggest a correlation between low vitamin D levels and joint pain. We know that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining bone health, and that many people tend to be low in the nutrient when they’re spending less time outdoors. Since vitamin D can be difficult to get without sunlight exposure or through diet alone, talk to your doctor about starting supplements.
People with inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to experience complications from the flu virus. Aches and pains are among the most common symptoms of the flu, so if your joints already feel achy in the winter, avoiding the flu may help with your pain. Even if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet this season, it’s not too late. Most pharmacies offer flu vaccines, but have a conversation with your doctor about any other vaccines you may also benefit from.
Put a stop to pain this winter with the treatments available through Alliance Spine and Pain Centers. Our specialists will develop a personalized approach for pain relief to see you through this season and beyond. Schedule an appointment online or by calling (770) 929-9033.