Minimizing the Effects of Arthritis This Winter
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on December 24, 2018 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Joint Pain
People who suffer from arthritis will often tell their friends and family members that they can sense oncoming storms or weather changes based on feelings in their joints. While this sort of statement may seem perplexing and perhaps even a little ridiculous, there is some truth behind it.
Many people with arthritis tend to experience flare-ups in stiffness, inflammation and pain when thunderstorms, cold fronts and blizzards blow into town. Thus, when the temperature takes a dive, lots of arthritis patients begin to suffer from more extreme pain.
If you have arthritis in your knees, shoulders, hands or other joints, there’s a scientific reason your pain may increase during the winter months. Fortunately, there are also many methods you can try to minimize your pain and stay comfortable until the weather clears.
Why does arthritis flare up in winter?
The exact reasoning behind arthritic flare-ups in winter is unknown, but studies have shown that a majority of arthritis patients really do experience changes in their arthritis during periods of inclement weather. Over time, experts have come up with a potential cause of this phenomenon.
The barometric pressure of the atmosphere is the force that the atmosphere puts on our bodies every day. Barometric pressure is usually pretty high, exerting quite a bit of force on us and the world around us. However, when storms or inclement weather appear, the barometric pressure drops, resulting in less force on our bodies.
With less force being placed on us, our tissues have more room inside to expand. In arthritic joints, this can mean that inflamed tissues get even more inflamed to the point where they touch nerves and inflict more pain than normal.
Unfortunately, there is little to be done about the atmosphere changing around us. This is why we need to take steps to minimize inflammation and relieve pain in other ways during cold months.
Don’t stop moving
One of the other leading causes of arthritis pain in winter is a lack of movement. It’s much harder to take long walks outside or play with pets and family in the backyard when the weather is chilly and the ground is covered in snow.
A lack of movement can be particularly harmful to arthritic joints. Regular exercise and stretching helps to strengthen joints and improve mobility, and when that movement stops, the joints tend to stiffen until movement is nearly impossible. It’s very important that arthritis patients make time to incorporate gentle exercise into their daily routines throughout the entire year.
Don’t move too much
On the other hand, moving too much can cause pain and inflammation, too. Some people overwork their bodies and put too much stress on arthritic joints while shoveling snow, participating in winter sports and more.
Make sure to listen to your body and watch for signs of stress in your joints. A daily 10-minute walk is a great way to loosen stiff joints, but a full day of skiing down steeps slopes might put your body out of commission for a week or more.
More tips for easing arthritis pain in cold weather
Aside from maintain an active lifestyle, there are many other ways you can minimize the effects of arthritis pain in your joints this winter. Try out some of these tips when you experience flare-ups.
- Stay warm: If the cold weather outside wasn’t enough of a reason for you to bundle up, keeping your joints protected and warm should be. If you’re heading out to brave the cold, add numerous loose layers that will trap body heat and keep your joints from getting stiff.
- Take anti-inflammatory supplements: Many foods, herbs and supplements contain anti-inflammatory properties that can significantly reduce pain and stiffness in arthritic joints. Bolster your daily diet with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory-rich foods, add a multivitamin to your routine if you’re lacking any vitamins and minerals and add omega-3 fatty acids (powerful anti-inflammatories) through foods or supplements.
- Get a gentle massage: Either self-administer a gentle massage or seek professional help in loosening tight muscles and joints. Arthritis-related stiffness creates tension in the areas surrounding the joint, leading to even worse mobility. Gentle massages can release that tension—and they’re also a great way to treat yourself!
- Add compression clothing: By mimicking the pressure applied by the atmosphere during other times of the year, compression clothing and sleeves may help keep inflammation and pain at bay during the winter. Knee sleeves and shoulder slings are two of the most popular compression items.
Arthritis pain can seem unmanageable on the worst winter days, but by using these tips and staying active, you can reduce your pain to a much more tolerable level. Remember to enjoy yourself during the winter months, but don’t push your body too hard, or you may get hurt.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan