Joint Pain and Arthritis
Joint pain or arthritis (the “wear-and-tear” of a joint) is the single most common orthopedic issue we deal with. Whether it’s our knee, hip, back, or even fingers, painful joints can range from a minor nuisance we put up with to even more debilitating and disabling conditions.
While arthritis symptoms can be experienced year-round, many of us notice a distinct increase in discomfort during the winter months. Why?
Arthritis is a general term used to describe wear-and-tear, or degeneration, in a joint. It can lead to pain, achiness, stiffness, and swelling in the joint.
There are several factors that contribute to the increase in joint pain during these cold weather months:
- The drop in temperature can cause joint fluids to become thicker, making them less effective at lubricating the joints. As a result, your joints may feel stiffer and more painful during cold weather.
- Reduced Physical Activity: The shorter days and colder weather can deter people from engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking or swimming, which can help alleviate arthritis symptoms. Reduced physical activity can lead to joint stiffness and weakened muscles, exacerbating the condition.
- Changes in Atmospheric Pressure: Some individuals with arthritis are sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure, which often occur during the winter months. These fluctuations can lead to increased joint pain and discomfort.
- Immune System Response: The body’s immune system may be more active in response to the cold, which can lead to inflammation in the joints for those with autoimmune types of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Seasonal Diet and Weight Gain: People often indulge in less healthy food choices during the holiday season (especially those like me who have a sweet tooth!), which can lead to weight gain. Extra pounds can put more pressure on your joints, increasing the risk of arthritis flare-ups.
- Reduced Exposure to Sunlight: Winter months come with reduced exposure to sunlight, leading to lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy bones, and its deficiency can worsen arthritis symptoms.
Fortunately, there are strategies to manage and mitigate arthritis flare-ups during the winter. A couple of helpful tips!
- Dress warmly: Layer up and keep your body, especially your joints, well-insulated against the cold.
- Maintain an active lifestyle: Regular exercise can help keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. Consider indoor activities like swimming, yoga, or tai chi.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water can help keep your joint fluids flowing smoothly.
- Use heating pads or warm baths: Applying heat to sore joints can help alleviate stiffness and pain.
- Follow a balanced diet: Choose foods that are low in inflammation-triggering ingredients and maintain a healthy weight to reduce the strain on your joints.
- Consider vitamin supplements: Consult with a healthcare provider to see if vitamin D supplements are necessary for you.
- Consult your healthcare provider: If you experience severe pain or a significant increase in arthritis symptoms during the winter, consult with your healthcare provider to discuss potential treatments, medications, therapies or injections. Despite being a surgeon, I am a physician first and feel surgery should be a last resort. But for people who are limited or experiencing pain more days than not, minimally-invasive surgery can be a great option to improve quality-of-life and get you back to a life where you aren’t limited by your joint pain.
In summary, arthritis flare-ups during the winter season can be challenging, but with proper self-care and management, you can minimize the impact of cold weather on your joints. Understanding the factors that contribute to winter flare-ups and taking proactive steps to mitigate them can help you maintain a better quality of life despite the challenges posed by arthritis. Remember to consult your healthcare provider for personalized advice on managing your arthritis symptoms during the winter.