Cold Weather and Your Joints
posted by Michael Carlson, MD | October 20, 2016
Can you forecast the weather by the pain in your knees or hips? Although research is contradictory, and scientists don’t all agree that weather causes pain, many people with arthritis have no doubt that changes in the weather are to blame for their increased pain. As we cruise through the last months of 2016, many of those who suffer from cold-related pain are certainly hoping that 2017 does not kick off with the bone-chilling, sub-zero readings we saw last year.
In 2007, researchers at Tufts University in Boston reported that every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with an incremental increase in arthritis pain, explains the Arthritis Foundation.
Another joint pain trigger is a change in barometric pressure — a measurement that refers to the weight of the surrounding air. In one experiment using cadavers, researchers found that barometric pressure affects pressure inside the joints. “When pressure in the hip joints was equated with atmospheric pressure, it threw the ball of the hip joint about one-third of an inch off track,” reports the Arthritis Foundation.
Think of the tissues surrounding the joints as a balloon. When barometric pressure is high, it pushes against the body from the outside and keeps the tissues from expanding. But when the barometric pressure drops, as it does before before bad weather rolls in, there is less air pressure pushing against the body. This allows tissues to expand, putting pressure on your joints. Although it’s a microscopic change, many people are very sensitive to it, especially those who live with chronic pain caused by an injury, inflammation or scarring.
If you’re one of the nearly 70 percent of people surveyed who can feel a change in your pain levels before rain or cold weather set in, you probably spend the winter months in a constant search for relief. Here are some tips to help you deal with the cold weather’s assault on your joints.
Dress warmly. Dress in loose layers when going outside in cold weather. Layers help trap your body heat. Wear tights, leggings or long underwear to protect your hips, legs and knees. Most of your body heat is lost from the extremities, so be sure you have warm wool gloves, socks and a hat.
Surround yourself with warmth. Keep your home toasty, and warm up your car before driving. Apply a heating pad to your painful joints, and run your clothes through the dryer to warm them before dressing. Heat relaxes your muscles and helps soothe pain.
Find comfort in warm water. Soaking in a warm bathtub can provide great relief, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Swimming in a heated pool is great exercise, and it’s easy on your joints.
Keep moving. You might be tempted to hibernate in winter, but inactivity only causes more stiffness. Exercise eases arthritis pain and increases strength and flexibility. If you exercise outdoors in cold weather, your muscles, ligaments and tendons may tighten up and grow stiff. It’s imperative that you prepare for your workout by warming up well first. Try indoor stretching or jogging in place.
If you can’t bear the thought of exercising outdoors in winter, create a fun indoor plan for yourself. Use a treadmill, an elliptical trainer or a stationary bike. Walk indoors at a shopping mall, or perform laps around your grocery store’s perimeter. Do some light stretching or yoga poses while watching TV. Play your favorite music and dance.
Lose weight. Your arthritis pain can ease up even in cold weather. A 2013 article highlighted the significant improvement people with knee arthritis can realize after losing weight through diet and exercise. Carrying excess weight puts a huge strain on your joints and is one of the reasons why so many younger, active adults are undergoing knee and hip replacement surgery prior to age 65.
Check your vitamin D levels. Research shows that low levels of vitamin D might increase your sensitivity to arthritis pain. A vitamin D deficiency also puts you at greater risk for osteoporosis. Because you might not receive enough natural vitamin D from sunlight in the winter, consult with your doctor about taking a supplement or consuming vitamin D-fortified foods.
I seek to find alternatives to surgery whenever possible, in the interest of doing what is best for the patient. Many times a customized physical therapy program can be very effective for treating and managing pain. Physical therapy helps to strengthen muscles, increase mobility and improve flexibility and range of motion.
In some cases, medications are an effective solution for managing joint pain. At other times, when all other treatments have been unsuccessful in alleviating pain, surgery is the best option.
When you reach your middle or senior years, knowing that a qualified orthopedic surgeon is available if you need a total hip or knee joint replacement is invaluable. I offer a full range of orthopedic services using state-of-the art technology to help you regain an active life.
I find immense satisfaction in the process relieving patients of pain. Helping patients recover and enjoy life again is a gratifying experience for me in my profession. I consider each person’s unique case, treat him or her individually and maintain open communication. If you’re struggling with joint pain, you don’t need to go it alone. Take a moment to call today and schedule a consultation.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.