Dr.Amir Neupane, MSK & Sports Medicine
Winter can be the season of pain for people with arthritis. The exact science behind cold-related joint aches is uncertain, but there’s no doubt symptoms can worsen. It could be that muscles, ligaments and joints just get stiffer with lower temperatures. What’s clear is that patients do feel the difference between 90-degree summer days and frigid winter overnight temps. Here are the ways to protect vulnerable joints as the weather grows cold.
Feel the (exercise) burn.
When cold winds blow, staying cozy indoors is more tempting than taking a walk – but staying active is better for function and mobility. Cutting down on activity only leads to decreased range of motion and more joint pain. Many people who become less active in the winter tend to put on a few pounds. And we know, especially with the knees, that even 5 pounds can make a difference in the degree of pain.
Dress warmly and in layers, “It’s important to keep the core body temperature warm.” Keeping joints warm is also essential, along with surrounding muscles and ligaments. Gloves, scarves, warm boots, long johns – who knows, maybe even legwarmers – protect your skin and joints from outdoor cold exposure. Dress for the changing weather, “If it’s going to be 38 degrees, and you tend to wear shorts year-round, put some pants on.
Tweak your workout for winter.
Adapt to the colder months by doing aerobics indoors. Using equipment like treadmills and exercise bikes is one way to stay warm. Heated indoor pools also provide good options for joint-friendly fitness.
Stretch against stiffness.
As people get older, their joints tend to get stiffer. Tai Chi or similar stretching maneuvers let you stay inside while keeping joints active. 30 sec stretch for two times in a day will be enough.
Apply heat in moderation.
Warm packs for cold joints hold a certain appeal. People love to use moist heat, heating pads but prevent bad skin burns. People fall asleep on heating pads; usually recommended for 10 to 20 minutes of heat (or ice) to the affected body part. Patients with neuropathies – damaged nerves to the hands or feet, often from diabetes – should use heat or ice packs for no more than 10 minutes at a time, and check every three to five minutes for skin reactions.
Be extra cautious for certain conditions.
People with vascular issues like Raynaud’s phenomenon, which can occur alone or with conditions like lupus, experience cold-related symptoms. As blood vessels constrict, fingers and toes feel numb, and skin turns blue or reddens. These people have a double whammy. Not only will they notice the pain in the joint just from the cold, they also get the vascular component that goes with it. That can be pretty profound. So it’s doubly important to keep the core body warm and make sure hands and feet stay warm and dry.