As the temperature drops, you might experience joint pain, or your joint pain may worsen. This is normal and happens for a variety of reasons. So, why do your joints ache in cold weather?
Why Colder Weather Can Worsen Joint Pain
When the air pressure outside changes, so does the air pressure inside your joints. This means that high pressure, low pressure, and changes in pressure (especially sudden ones) can all put pressure on your joints and increase pain. Another theory is that when your cartilage is worn away by arthritis, the nerves in the exposed bones become sensitive to pressure.
Low Temperature Affects Joint Fluid
Your joints have fluid in them, called synovial fluid. Lower temperatures can cause this fluid to become thicker, making joints stiffer. Wrapping up warmly, especially around your joints, can help prevent this effect. If your hands and fingers hurt during the winter, wear gloves.
You Aren’t Moving Around
For some people it might not actually be the temperature. It might be that you’re staying home curled up in front of the fire instead of getting out and moving. Lack of physical activity can cause joints to stiffen up, resulting in worse joint pain and also decreased function and range of mobility.
There may be other factors we don’t yet know about. So, what can you do about it?
Ways to Prevent Cold Weather Joint Aches
Here are some things you can do to reduce those cold weather joint aches and stay active and healthy:
- Exercise. Don’t let yourself become sedentary in the winter. Not only will this make your joints stiffer, but you may also put on a few pounds, which can also make your joints worse. Go for a walk. If it’s really too cold outside, go walk around an indoor shopping mall or go to an indoor, heated swimming pool to exercise.
- Dress for the weather. Wear a hat and gloves. If it’s really cold, consider mittens over gloves, extra pairs of socks, etc. Long johns can also help a lot, and another trick which can help keep your knees and ankles warm is to wear pantyhose under trousers or leggings. Use layers so you can easily strip down. And don’t forget cozy boots.
- Stretch regularly. Don’t neglect your yoga if you do it. You can stretch indoors without having to expose yourself to the cold.
- Use heating packs. If a joint is particularly bothering you, use a heating pad to warm it up. Take care not to leave it on for more than 20 minutes, or 10 if you have damaged nerves.
- Try a paraffin bath for your hands or feet. This involves soaking your appendages in gently heated wax which will solidify over your hands or feet. You leave it on for ten to fifteen minutes. Do this before exercising or stretching.
- Avoid heavy lifting and anything else which might put unnecessary strain on your joints.
- Stay hydrated. A lot of people drink less in the winter when you don’t get as much feedback from your body about overheating. Make sure to drink more water than you think you need, although you should not “drink until you slosh.”
- Take a vitamin D supplement, as low vitamin D can make arthritis pain worse. Staying indoors more can result in a deficiency.
If you still have problems, talk to your doctor or a pain management specialist about what you can do to stay active during the winter and keep your joints from bothering you whenever the mercury drops. It’s normal to feel more joint pain in the winter, but it’s not something you have to “just deal with.” It is, in fact, something that can be easily managed with a bit of help.
The doctors at Pontchartrain Orthopedics and Sports Medicine are skilled in helping their patients find relief from joint pain year-round. Our team creates personalized treatment plans utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, interventional therapies, and conventional pain management techniques.
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