When winter weather rolls into town people often feel that it not only brings tidings of holidays, shopping, and family but also joint pain. For some, they feel it so keenly that they seem to be able to predict the weather changes based on the status of their joints. Although science provides no clear explanation of this phenomenon several studies have documented the correlation between weather fluctuations and joint pain.
The Correlation Between Weather And Joint Pain
There are some theories that can explain the correlation including the changes in barometric pressure with the shift in season. A decrease in temperature may also thicken the fluid that lines the joints, causing more stiffness and sensitivity to pain. Winter also leads to inactivity and changes in the activity which can lead to painful joints. Cold weather may even affect us at the genetic level as a 2015 study noted that genes that promote inflammation are more active in the winter while anti-inflammatory genes are suppressed.
In addition to all of this, the incidence of illness increases in the winter, leading to more pain and inflammation for those who fall sick.
Tips To Prevent Joint Pain in the Winter
As for patients who experience this influx of pain with the season change, they certainly agree there is a link and often look for a way to relieve the joint pain. If cold weather has been causing joint pain for you or your loved ones the following conservative treatments may offer some relief:
- Warm-up with activity: When the temperature drops doing a few stretches, using a recumbent bike, or finding a local exercise class can increase mobility and reduce pain. Be sure not to overdo it and listen to your body.
- Help reduce inflammation: Diet plays a large role in the body’s overall inflammation. Highly processed foods, sugary foods and foods high in saturated fat can increase inflammation and therefore pain. Avoiding these can help reduce pain and help patients lose extra weight which will also reduce stress on your painful joints.
- Stay warm with layers and heat: wearing the proper clothing, especially here in Arizona, will be helpful. If you are used to wearing shorts year-round it may be time to get some long pants to wade through the winter months. Moreover, we are hesitant to use heat here, but it can be helpful to prevent joint pain. An electric blanket or heating pads are also wonderful.
- Taking OTC (over the counter) painkillers with care: medication like Advil (ibuprofen/Motrin), Aleve (naproxen/Naprosyn) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help get you through painful periods. These medicines are not without side effects, however, and if you plan to use them you should consult with your doctor before using them. Follow the instructions they give you regarding dosing, type and frequency because these medications can cause new problems or worsen existing ones.
- Try OTC rubs and creams: Patients often find relief with OTC ointments and creams including Blue Emu, Salonpas Icy Hot, Bio Freeze, Arnicare, and Aspercreme. In a recent study, Capzasin was the top-recommended product, but each person’s experience is different. Find what works best for you.
- Try an herbal remedy: Turmeric (curcumin), arnica, ginger, aloe vera, and other medications have been shown to help reduce pain and inflammation. As with any medications these can have side effects and you should contact your doctor prior to trying them.
- Alternate between using ice and heat: Ice and heat can both be effective during flare-ups, and alternating between the two throughout a painful spell can be beneficial. Do no use either for longer than 10-20 minutes and do not sleep with heating pads or ice machines on. This can cause serious skin damage.
- Keep swelling to a minimum: keeping your joints from swelling can help prevent pain. You can use well-fitting gloves, compression garments, and compressive knee braces to help reduce swelling and improve functionality. Make sure any tight item whether it be a piece of clothing, glove, or brace does not squeeze too tight so as to prevent blood flow. If you feel a limb become cold or tingly remove the items immediately.
- Lastly, remember the weather will change: Looking ahead to warmer days can help prevent the psychological effect that the cold, dark, and damp weather may have on your body. Studies have found that patients can experience a lower threshold of pain during the winter months due to a lack of sunlight. To prevent this find ways to occupy your mind with things you enjoy, try to get enough sleep and maintain a good diet (even during the holidays). Learning how to improve your mood plays a big role when managing chronic joint pain, but if you feel your mood is slipping out of your control follow up with your doctor.