Winter is almost here and with it comes that arctic winter air. Unfortunately, for those suffering from chronic pain and arthritis, the cooler temperatures can actually cause an increase in discomfort.
A recent study of people with osteoarthritis (OA) published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders asked participants if and how weather influenced their pain. Of the 712 people who answered the survey, 469 (67%) said they were weather sensitive. It turns out that weather-sensitive people with OA experience more joint pain overall than their non-weather-sensitive counterparts.
Researchers don’t know for sure why changes in weather can increase pain or why some people are affected more than others. Some believe the increased pain comes from decreased activity. It is well established that physical activity helps relieve arthritis pain. And when the weather is less than ideal, people tend to forgo their fitness activities. That inactivity can lead to more pain.
Other researchers offer physical explanations of the pain increase. Changes in barometric pressure can cause expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues, resulting in pain in the tissues that are affected by arthritis. Low temperatures may also increase the thickness of joint fluids, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.
The mind-body connection shouldn’t be ignored either. If warm sunny weather makes you feel better psychologically, you’ll probably feel better physically as well. Luckily, there are several things you can do to counter the consequences of cooler weather.
- Dress warmly. Whether you’re inside or out, keeping your body warm and your blood circulating is important. Sweaters and vests are great inside since they keep your core warm. When you go outside, add another layer to keep warm.
- Exercise inside. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health that measured physical activity in 241 adults with arthritis living in Chicago (a city known for its bitterly cold winters) found that the amount of sedentary time increased by over three hours between November and June. While it’s understandable to want to avoid winter weather, those with joint pain should remain active — and the best way is with an indoor exercise plan.
- Enjoy warm water. Swimming in a heated pool is both great exercise and soothing for joints. You can also get relief from warm baths. Just don’t go right out into the cold after your soak. Let your body temperature normalize a bit first.