Arthritis is a disease that causes joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The joint pain of arthritis can appear as knee pain, hip pain, thumb pain, hand pain, or wrist pain, as well as joint pain in other areas of the body.
Many with arthritis claim to experience more arthritis-related pain on colder, wet days than on warmer, dry days. You probably have a relative in your family who will declare “My shoulder is achy. Rain’s coming soon.” And often that relative is correct. Although there is no conclusive scientific data that weather exacerbates symptoms of arthritis, studies show a variety of weather factors can increase arthritis pain. There are indications that there is a link between low barometric pressure, high humidity and joint swelling. This swelling causes stiffness of the joints, as well as pain. Cold weather stiffens muscles, which can also be a contributing factor. It should be noted that only symptoms of pain in joints and stiffness seem to be affected by weather and there is no evidence that it leads to joint damage.
You can find a great tool on The Arthritis Foundation website that will help you to predict your joint pain level based on the local weather. Go to www.arthritistoday.org/tools-and-resources/tools/weather/ for more information.
How we react to cold weather
When it is cold outside, people tend to be more guarded. We clench up our fists and arms, we hunker down in our seats, burrow into our coats and generally, tighten up our bodies to shield ourselves from the elements. These defensive postures can cause more joint pain and stiffness.
But more importantly, people tend to exercise less in the colder months. Sometimes a lot less. It’s well-known that exercise eases the pain associated with arthritis. It increases flexibility, eases our joints, makes us stronger and improves our overall health. When it’s cold or wet out, we tend to make exercise less of a priority, often ignoring it altogether. Shorter daylight hours in the winter months also limits outside exercise time.
What can you do?
When venturing outside it’s important to dress warmly, using layers to trap heat close to your body. Be sure to cover your head, hands and feet well because we tend to lose most of our body heat from those areas. Make sure to always wear appropriate footwear for the weather to avoid nasty falls on the ice or wet, soggy feet while walking through the rain or the snow.
When the weather prohibits adequate outdoor activities, turn inward and figure out how to exercise inside. It’s key to maintain an active lifestyle throughout the year. If you are in the midst of a flare up, do what you can because it’s worse to not do anything at all. Check your local area for mall walkers programs, yoga classes, or aqua fitness classes at a nearby heated indoor pool.
Look around your house or apartment and make the best use of your indoor space. Exercise by walking around your house during the commercials in your favorite television show, jog in place with light hand weights, take the stairs when you can and maybe borrow or invest in a stationary exercise bike or a treadmill.
Be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and juice. This will help flush out toxins and help alleviate joint pain. Indulge in hot beverages, such as hot tea, hot chocolate and soup. All are warming and comforting on a raw winter day.
You can use a dehumidifier to maintain moisture level at work or home. Start your day with a hot shower. A hot shower can work some of the stiffness out of the joints and warms up your whole body.
Talk to your health care professional about other treatments like over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, supplements, acupuncture, massage, and splints that can be helpful.