7 Tips to Conquer the Cold When You Have Arthritis
The nights are drawing in, the air is chilling and the trees are getting more and more bare: once again, cold weather is here. We know that it can be tempting to wait out the winter months getting cosy on the sofa with a blanket and a hot water bottle, but whether it’s cold or hot outside one thing remains true: a lack of movement and exercise can make arthritis symptoms worse, even if moving doesn’t feel like something you want to do in the moment.
Unfortunately, many people feel that the colder months make their joint pain worse, which can make it even harder to get motivated to exercise. Does the cold really make your joints feel worse, and how can you conquer the cold and keep living life the way you want? We spoke to several spokespeople at UK charity Arthritis Action to find out more.
Does joint pain get worse during the colder months?
“Many people with arthritis or joint damage claim that they can tell when the weather is going to change or when it’s going to rain,” says Dr Wendy Holden, Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor and Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist. “Some people claim that a drop in atmospheric pressure might cause tissues to expand and cause arthritis joints to hurt more. However, a 2017 American research project compared Medicare insurance claims from 1.5 million patients aged 65 or older with rainfall data to see if there was a link between more doctors visits on rainier days. They found no correlation between rainy weather and increased doctor’s visits for pain complaints.
“However, many people stay indoors more during the cold months and become less active, which can negatively affect arthritis. It is important to keep your joints mobile and use your muscles, to retain health and strength. Movement and staying active, even when it’s cold outside, is great for helping with pain and improving stiffness”
So how can you motivate yourself to get outdoors and keep moving in the cold? Read on for our 7 tips!
1. Get fresh air - but be mindful of your temperature
There are many benefits to getting some fresh air. It can elevate your mood, help your immune system, improve your memory, focus and energy levels, and even improve digestion! “Getting fresh air, even if we are finding ourselves inside for long periods of time, is good for our minds and our bodies,” says Dr Wendy Holden.
Whilst the relationship between cold weather and arthritis isn’t super clear, some people do feel that their pain increases as the temperature drops - and sudden changes in temperature may make it worse. It can be a good idea to ease into the cold, rather than plunging straight in. “Be mindful of getting too cold. Try to slowly raise your internal temperature with some gentle exercises, whilst cracking a window open to get some fresh air through your home for a few minutes each day,” says Dr Wendy.
2. Get enough vitamin D
Vitamin D is really important generally, but perhaps even more so if you have arthritis. This is because vitamin D can help prevent the thinning of your bones and promote bone, tooth and muscle health. The body can create enough vitamin D from direct sunlight in the summer months, but from around October till early March we are unlikely to get enough natural vitamin D as the days are shorter and we tend to spend less time outdoors.
For this reason, the NHS recommends that everyone consider taking a Vitamin D supplement during the winter. “People with arthritis are often deficient in vitamin D, so a supplement during winter months is advisable,” says Martin Lau, Arthritis Action’s Services Development Manager & Dietitian.
3. Get enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
Martin Lau has the following advice for keeping healthy during the winter months:
- 1. Have more colourful fruit and vegetables. The phytochemicals have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- 2. Choose and use your dietary fat wisely. Both Omega-3 fats and olive oil help to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. Steer clear of trans fat and limit the use of saturated fat.
3. Make sure you are not deficient in vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B12, found in meat, dairy, eggs and fish, and magnesium, found in green leafy vegetables and wholegrains, could be associated with pain sensitivity.
Some people may feel that certain supplements can help with their overall health, especially if they are not getting enough of a specific vitamin or mineral in their diet (this can be especially true of B12 if you follow a vegetarian diet). It is always a good idea to have a chat with your doctor about any supplements you are interested in and/or any deficiencies you are concerned about. They can help advise you and help you plan ways to increase the amount of nutrients you’re getting in your diet.
4. Maintain your muscle health
“Building your muscles and improving your balance doesn't have to be hard,” says David Vaux, Registered Osteopath and Arthritis Action’s Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead. “It can even be done during your everyday activities around the house. For example, try standing on one leg while brushing your teeth to improve your balance. If you struggle at first, you can hold onto the sink with one hand while raising one foot slightly in the air.
“There's also no need to buy weights to start weight training from home during the winter months. Using a tin of food or bottle of water (using different sizes of bottles depending on your strength) can strengthen your arms and shoulders without having to go outside.”
5. Stay hydrated!
It’s common sense that you need to drink a lot of water in the summer months, but it’s also really important to stay hydrated in the winter. When you’re dehydrated, your energy levels can fall because water helps keep your mind and body balanced. Not drinking enough water can also contribute to brain fog, irritable mood, headaches, weaker workouts and weight gain.
All of this will make it harder to work out and maintain your muscle strength, which can then lead to more arthritis pain. “Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can increase sensitivity to pain!” says Martin Lau.
6. Warm up before you cool down
Before you go out in the cold weather, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes stretching and warming up your core and body temperature in the same way you might before doing a workout. This will help loosen up the joints and promote flexibility, which can be really helpful if you feel like your joints and muscles seize up in the cold weather. Try marching on the spot for a few minutes and doing a few gentle stretches before braving the outdoors.
It’s also important that you’re warm and comfortable in your indoor environment. Gadgets like heated blankets, heating pads (which can be applied to the sore area), portable heaters, hot water bottles and activities like having a warm bath or investing in an electric massager (many come with a heated option) can help you feel comfortable indoors.
7. Layers and layers
When it’s cold outside, you want to be wearing loose, comfortable layers that can be added or removed as you need. Loose layers trap body heat and can help you stay warm, but you will want to avoid overheating, especially if you go from outside to somewhere warm inside, and you may find that you heat up as you’re moving and become uncomfortably hot.
There are also special pieces of clothing (like thermal knee pads, heated gloves, neck warmers and thermal underwear) which can help keep your core body temperature warm and provide additional support to particularly painful areas - just be mindful of wearing these when you’re planning on being in a warmer environment as you may overheat!
What are your tips for conquering the cold when you have arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.