The inactive joints can get stiff and painful. Furthermore, bad weather can affect people’s moods; if you are sad or depressed, the perception of pain can be magnified.
By Dr Gurinder Bedi
Come winters, and “Ooh, Aah, Ouch” is a common sound you hear in many a home. This happens even with those people who were doing so well a few weeks back. As doctors, we see many patients in our clinics complaining of increased stiffness, aches and pains. Nagging joint pains seem to flare up as soon as temperatures drop. This weather-related increase in discomfort is especially felt more so by people having arthritis and chronic pain.
Can cold weather affect joints?
So far, scientific studies haven’t found a definitive correlation between changes in weather and increase in pain. A report released in 2017 in the Journal Rheumatology International reviewed nine scientific studies on this subject and concluded that there was not enough evidence to suggest that changes in temperature influenced the intensity of pain. Even though the research on this connection is not conclusive, however, the sheer number of patients with pain flare-ups in winter, suggests that there could be some underlying causes for this.
Why do joints hurt in cold weather?
One cause could be related to barometric pressure, which is a measurement of the weight exerted by air molecules on objects including our human bodies. In winters, barometric pressure drops, which causes tendons, muscles, and surrounding tissues to expand and that can create pain in joints affected by arthritis.
Also, in patients with arthritis, when the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint is worn away, nerves in the exposed bones might become more sensitive to changes in pressure.
Another significant cause could be the relationship between cold weather and level of exercise. People tend to stay indoors and lounge around more, wrapping themselves trying to get cosy especially when it’s cold and rainy outside. The inactive joints can get stiff and painful. Furthermore, bad weather can affect people’s moods; if you are sad or depressed, the perception of pain can be magnified.
Easy tips to tackle joint pain and stiffness
One can do many things to mitigate the impact of cold weather on pain and stiffness.
Here are some useful tips to tackle joint pain and stiffness:
- One obvious way would be to dress according to the weather to ensure that you stay warm.
- It is a good idea to build up muscle and bone strength through exercise. This reduces pressure on your joints, so they are less prone to injury.
- Ensure that you avoid unnecessary strain on your joints during daily activities.
- It is extremely important to maintain a healthy weight to decrease stress on your joints, especially your knees.
- Apply heating pads to painful areas. The heat helps relax your muscles.
- Get up, walk around and be active indoors and outdoors.
- Stretch before going outside to loosen stiff joints.
- Staying active in the winter keeps your muscles and joints healthy.
- We are unsure what role medicines have in these pains but physical activity really helps.
- Vitamin supplements and nutritional supplements can, however, be tried.
So, get out there! Move your body more and stop hiding in those thick quilts and enjoy the winter for it’s not going to last long. Last but not least, get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet and keep a positive outlook.
(Dr Gurinder Bedi is Director – Orthopaedics, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi. Views expressed are the author’s own.)