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Does The Cold Make Our Joints Stiffer and More Painful?

Maybe your grandmother knew a storm was coming when their knees started to hurt. Or you’ve felt your own joints ache when the temperature outside drops.

It’s common to blame joint pain flare-ups on changes in the weather, and many doctors believe people can feel more joint pain on cold, rainy days. But the research on the connection between the two isn’t clear.

As the cold weather sets in, we at the Centre often see an increase in the number of people complaining of stiffness. Body function is affected by temperature, humidity, barometric pressure (pressure of the air), and exposure to sunshine. Often, the aches or pains relating to pre-existing conditions, can be exacerbated due to these factors.

This makes it tricky for scientists to pinpoint exactly what it is about the weather that leads some people to report more pain when it’s cold, rainy, or humid.

How weather may affect joints?

Still, there are a few theories about the relationship. One is that people with joint pain, especially arthritis, may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. How? It could be that when the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint is worn away, nerves in the exposed bones might pick up on changes in pressure.

Another idea: Changes in barometric pressure may make your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue expand and contract, and that can create pain in joints affected by arthritis. Low temperatures can also make the fluid inside joints thicker, so they feel stiffer.

Our nervous system activates changes within our bodies when it gets colder to help regulate body temperature. Vasoconstriction occurs, where muscles tighten to constrict blood vessels throughout the body. Less heat reaches the surface of our bodies allowing our core temperature to remain steady for our vital organs (Homeostasis). The temperature affects how easily oxygen is released from haemoglobin in the blood to the muscle. In colder weather, the rate that oxygen is released is slower, leaving less oxygen available for the muscle. Thus, muscle contraction becomes more difficult.

However lifestyle changes associated with the cold also play a role. Typically, we move less in the cold. The tendency to stay indoors when it’s cold and rainy outside promotes a more inactive lifestyle, thus promoting stiff and painful joints.

Furthermore, when our bodies start to get cold, the first thing we do is hunch up our shoulders, round our upper backs and bury our chin. All this places a lot of stress on the upper back and shoulders. The muscles used to do this will be encouraged to shorten and stiffen by this.

Even though the science isn’t clear, flare-ups when the weather turns are very real for many people with joint pain. Some people’s bodies may just be more sensitive to changes in the weather. Many people say they find relief in warmer climates, but again, there’s no scientific proof that it will ease your aches.

Tips to prevent cold weather pains this winter:

  • Keep Moving: Daily exercises at fitness centre or at home for 30-45 minute. Include strength training, cardio and flexibility exercises to keep those cold weather aches away. (Stretching promotes efficient blood circulation. The circulating blood provides oxygenated rich blood and nutrients to the muscle for proper function. Exercise increases this oxygen intake).

  • Stay Hydrated: With cold weather, sometimes our water consumption decreases. Water helps keep your system balanced, your joints lubricated and your system flowing. It helps in removal of wastes and helps your body run smoothly.

  • Stay Warm: When temperatures drop, try to keep yourself warm. Take warm showers or baths, dress in layers during the day (including gloves and warm socks), use an electric blanket at night, or crank up the heat inside your home.

  • Take it easy: Don’t strain your joints if you don’t have to. Let someone else lift those heavy boxes.

  • Vitamin D supplement: In the winter months, we get less than necessary sunlight and we are more susceptible to being Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency can be the reason of muscle, bone and joint pain. Check with your Primary care physician.

  • Take care of your health in general, like with good nutrition and getting enough sleep.

  • Last Resort: Ask your doctor about pain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).


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