DAVE WATTS, MD
How does cold weather affect joint pain?
Have you ever felt chronic joint pain spring into action during a cold snap? Do you feel it in your bones before a heavy rain or snowfall? This isn’t just a coincidence. There’s a reason why joint-related pain like arthritis or elbow pain can get worse during cold weather, especially if you live in a wetter climate. When you suffer from joint pain, getting the right knee pain treatment or elbow pain treatment can be challenging enough even in the best weather. When winter strikes and brings sharp, aching pain with it, the challenge can feel insurmountable. Before making a visit to your local Sioux Falls orthopedic surgeons, you might want to understand a bit more about why cold weather exacerbates joint pain and what you can do to stop it.
When the temperature drops, the atmospheric pressure changes, causing our bodies to shift in ways that we normally don’t notice. However, for people suffering from chronic joint pain, the drop in pressure before the temperature change can bring on a ton of discomfort due to the expansion of tissue around sensitive areas. When the pressure changes, tissues react by growing larger and creating more potential for serious nerve pain, especially if your joints have worn down the surrounding cartilage. The nerves themselves can end up being more receptive to pain as well, especially if they’re still recovering from injury.
In warm weather, the fluid running through our bodies is more free-flowing due to the higher temperatures. However, when cold weather sets in, this fluid can end up thickening and moving around much more slowly. This provides our joints with less cushioning and protection, creating a lot of stiffness and aching, especially in the morning or after periods of less activity. Doing a few stretches in the morning can help protect against aching and stiffness during the day.
If you live in an area that’s both cold and wet, the moisture in the air could end up impacting the health of your bones and cartilage, making them more sensitive than usual. This, combined with the expansion of your joint tissue and sensitivity of the surrounding nerves, can create a perfect storm of joint pain. Cold weather also means less physical activity, which can end up creating a feeling of stiffness and tightness in affected areas.
What You Can Do
In cold weather, protect your joints by keeping active, bundling up, and use special braces or guards that protect against swelling, especially if you’re doing winter sports or activities. Even if you can only do a few stretches in the morning, it will help limber you up for the day and keep your circulation going. Even taking a small dose of a conventional pain reliever like ibuprofen can help with swelling and stiffness during especially harsh winter days. Taking hot baths and soaking or steaming for as long as you can is a great way to keep your joint pain at bay, especially after a period of strenuous outside activity.