7 Tips To Survive Winter With Arthritis
As the nights draw in and the weather gets colder, you might be worried about how the chillier temperatures will affect your arthritis. Some people find that colder weather makes joint pain worse, which is the last thing you need when the weather turns.
Winter may not be your favourite time of year, but don’t worry. We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, consultant rheumatologist and medical adviser for Arthritis Action, and David Vaux, Arthritis Action Therapies Manager & Exercise Lead at Arthritis Action, for their tips on how to ease joint pain this winter.
How and why can cold weather affect osteoarthritic joints?
Many people with arthritis swear that their symptoms get worse during cold, damp or warm weather. Many believe an increase in pain in their joints means it’s going to rain or the weather is going to change.
Can the weather really make joint pain worse? “Researchers from the University of Manchester collected information from over 13,000 people with chronic pain over 15 months in a study called ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Pain’,” says Dr Wendy Holden. “The study showed that for many people weather did affect their pain, but it was damp and changeable weather rather than the cold.
“No one knows why changes in the weather can affect joint pain, but it may be that joints can sense changes in the external air pressure through nerve endings, and that other nerve endings in the joint can then also trigger pain signals,” says Dr Wendy.
But there are ways to ease joint pain in winter. Here are some helpful tips.
Wrap up warm
“If cold weather seems to make your joint pain worse, try keeping your core warmer with layers or thermal clothes and wear thicker socks or thermal gloves,” says Dr Wendy.
Layering-up during cold weather can help your body adjust more readily to temperature changes when going from inside to outside.
Get fresh air - but don’t over do it
“Getting fresh air, especially if we are finding ourselves inside for long periods of time, is good for our minds and our bodies,” says David Vaux. “Be mindful of getting too cold, however. Try slowly raising your internal temperature with some gentle exercise, and try to stay moving and mobile while you’re outdoors.”
You don’t have to do star jumps to keep yourself warm outdoors, but staying active can help warm you up and get your body moving - which can help with the pain of arthritis.
Don’t forget to exercise
“It is important to keep your joints mobile whilst using your muscles, to retain health and strength. Movement is great for helping with pain during the winter months, flushing your joints through with key nutrients and improving stiffness,” David explains.
You don’t have to force yourself to run in the snow to stay active - there are loads of exercises you can do from the comfort (and warmth!) of your own home. Why not try downloading a yoga app or watching a beginners’ salsa video on Youtube?
“Take a look at Arthritis Action’s chair-based exercises page, which demonstrates ways to keep your joints active without having to leave the house,” says David. “These exercises will also help to improve the range of motion and joint function for people with arthritis.”
Try warm water
Another good way of exercising in winter is indoor swimming. It’s a low impact form of exercise which doesn’t put excess pressure on your joints, and it both strengthens your muscles and gives you a great cardio workout.
Having a warm bath to ease aches and pains is a tried, tested and effective option. The warm water stimulates blood flow to your muscles and joints, whilst also relaxing the muscles and promoting tissue healing. Baths are also just a wonderful way to unwind!
“It is always important to keep hydrated, whatever your health situation might be,” says Dr Wendy. “Drinking more water may help to reduce your stress levels that many feel during the colder months.”
It’s worth remembering our joints contain fluid and cartilage that needs to be kept hydrated, so it’s essential that you drink plenty of water. It’s a good idea to get a reusable water bottle that you can take around with you and fill up when needed.
Get that vitamin D
As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, you’ll probably be spending less time in the sun and may end up suffering from a lack of vitamin D. This vitamin helps prevent thinning of the bones and may have anti-inflammatory effects, both of which are important for preventing osteoarthritis and lessening its effects.
Hot and cold treatments
“Some people may find that an ice pack wrapped in a tea-towel can help reduce the inflammation surrounding an arthritic joint,” says Dr Wendy. “However, some people find a heat pack or hot water bottle to be more beneficial during the winter months. Some may even find that both are effective. There is no single life hack that works for everyone. Experiment with the different options and see what works best for you.”
What are your tips for easing joint pain in the winter? Let us know on Facebook.