How Does Cold Weather Affect Arthritis?

A joint is the area in the body where two or more bones meet. Joints are intended to allow bones to work with each other so that we can move and bend. That said, look no further than your elbows, knees, ankles, shoulders, hips, fingers or toes to see your joints in action. When you move these joints, you will notice that it’s usually quite smooth – no cracking or grinding. Unless you have arthritis.

That’s because joints contain cartilage, a rubbery material that serves as a cushion so that bones can seamlessly glide against each other without risk of damage. As the cartilage starts to wear with time, injury, or disease, the joint can swell, become inflamed and stiff, lose its range of motion and weaken. There are more than one hundred different kinds of arthritis affecting more than 50 million Americans of all ages. And as painful as arthritis is, for many it seems to get worse during cold weather. Here are some reasons why this could be true.

Barometric Pressure Changes

Barometric pressure is the force we feel because of the weight of the atmosphere. When barometric pressure decreases (typical in cold or wet weather), tissue in the body expands, thereby adding more pressure on the body’s nerves and leading to more pain signals being sent to the brain. Some doctors believe barometric pressure changes do affect people with arthritis – especially those with fibromyalgia or psoriatic arthritis – who tend to have more flare ups in the colder months.

Lifestyle Changes in Cold Weather

Let’s face it. Even the most outdoorsy of us sometimes prefer a warm cozy fireplace to being outdoors. As such, we tend to slow down a bit during the winter months. This decrease in physical activity negatively impacts those with arthritis, so it’s no coincidence that those of us who prefer the sunshine to the snow may decide to cool it until the sun comes out in spring.

Humidity

For those who have arthritis – especially rheumatoid arthritis – cold and dampness are especially brutal. If your home is damp, try to dry it out with heaters and dehumidifiers. On the other hand, if your house is too dry, add some moisture by using a humidifier or place a pot of water on top of your wood-burning stove. Don’t forget to keep your skin moist and, in doing so, consider massaging oils or cremes into your joints to get the blood flowing again.

Diet

Who doesn’t love a rich, hearty stew or hot-buttered popcorn on a cold night? However, if you have gout or other forms of arthritis that are triggered by rich foods, you may want to think twice. Keep that summer diet going by choosing winter-fresh fruits and vegetables. (Vitamin C-rich oranges are often in season during the colder months.) Don’t load up on salts, which can cause water retention that can make joints feel achy and stiff. Continue to drink lots of water.

Tips to Manage Symptoms

If you feel that your arthritic symptoms worsen when the temperature goes down, try the following. First, dress warmly and layer up, especially if you are heading outside. Wear moisture-wicking fabrics to keep your muscles and joints from getting a chill. Be creative in how you will stay active in the cold weather. If you cannot go out, explore exercise and workout activities that you can do in the comfort of your home. There are a variety of exercises that you can do with very little space or equipment required. Consider keeping a diary to verify whether it is the cold weather that triggers your symptoms or bad habits.

If you suffer from arthritis and need help managing your condition, call Movement Orthopedics. They specialize in advanced diagnostics, prevention, and treatment of a variety of orthopedic conditions and injuries including arthritis. Call (586) 436-3785 to make an appointment today. You can also request an appointment online.

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