I was recently talking with a family member about their hip and low back arthritis pain. They had mentioned that when it gets colder outside, they start to notice more pain. Is arthritis pain and colder weather connected? I decided to do some research on this connection.
Cold weather increases thickness (also known as the viscosity) of the fluid in your joints and can make them feel stiffer, along with increased sensitivity to pain. During colder temperatures, we also tend to decrease our activity levels which can contribute to pain and stiffness too. Colder, damp temperatures can affect arthritis pain but don’t worry, we can be prepared! Thriving through winter adventures is possible even with colder temperatures and arthritis pain.
Arthritis pain and colder weather do seem to be connected. Many times colder weather months can be a little more difficult for people with arthritis because our joints become stiffer and movement seems to be more difficult. There are a few reasons why this can happen, let’s take a look:
- There is a fluid in our joints in between our bones that helps them move more smoothly called synovial fluid. In the colder temperatures, it has been shown that this fluid increases in thickness and doesn’t flow as smoothly. When this happens, our joints become stiffer and seem much more difficult to move. This fluid can also make our joints more sensitive to pain because there is more friction between the joints. Think of water vs molasses.
- In the winter months we decrease our activity levels. In the colder temperatures, we may be less motivated to go for a walk or spend time outdoors. We may choose to spend time at home, covered up with a blanket, and drinking a nice warm drink! Physical activity is great for our cartilage as it helps to increase blood flow which increases nutrients traveling to your cartilage. With limited activity, our cartilage becomes more brittle and less cushioned making our joints more sensitive to pain.
- Colder weather brings holiday months. These holiday months typically come with social gatherings and potentially overindulging in treats. These treats are typically higher in high fructose corn syrup, saturated and trans fats, and carbohydrates. These can typically increase inflammation which can lead to more irritation inside the joint.
So what do we do about arthritis pain and colder weather?
Here are three tips to make it through the winter while taking control of your pain!
- Warm-up your joints! We can do this in a variety of ways to keep our joints warm and less painful. This could include using heating pads, compression sleeves or gloves, heated socks/slippers, heated mittens, or extra blankets in the morning. Joint stiffness decreases with increasing heat because it limits the friction by decreasing the thickness of the fluid in our joints. Especially in the morning, having a plan can limit the stiffness you feel and decrease your pain.
- Plan physical activity. Switching to finding an exercise routine you like that you can do indoors (stationary bike, elliptical, treadmill, strength training, kickboxing, racquetball, etc) or try something new outdoors (hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, etc)! Also trying to add in small movement breaks during the day every 1-2 hours to avoid staying in one position for too long. We have to find ways to keep moving so we can keep our joints happy, even with colder temperatures.
- Everything in moderation. Trust me, we don’t have to swear off treats forever! Moderation is key to keeping inflammation levels lower along with your joint pain levels. Becoming aware of your trigger foods for your arthritis pain can be one way to prevent overindulging in foods that drive up your pain levels. Sugar is a common trigger food and limiting sugary treats could be one way to ensure your pain levels stay down.
Winter can be an enjoyable time with the holidays and snowy adventures with your kids and grandkids. Don’t let your arthritis pain and colder weather get you down! Using these strategies you can decrease pain levels, keep your cartilage happy, and decrease joint stiffness. We want to help you feel more prepared to take on any adventure that comes your way!
Are you looking for more tips on how to manage your arthritis pain? Download this FREE guide explaining the Top 5 Secrets to Getting Rid of Joint Pain Forever.
Dr. Alyssa Kuhn is a physical therapist and arthritis specialist. She founded Keep the Adventure Alive because she found a gap in the education about arthritis and wanted to fill it by bringing hope to those that are effected. Too often people give up on all adventures when dealing with joint pain so we are here to keep your adventure alive!