Coping with joint pain in winter

As the temperature drops, many people with joint pain and osteoarthritis (OA) notice that their symptoms worsen.

The cold can make joints feel stiffer and more painful, which can be particularly challenging.

Here are some practical tips to help manage osteoarthritis during the colder months.

Why does cold weather affect osteoarthritis?

Although the exact reason isn’t completely understood, it is believed that cold weather can increase joint pain and stiffness for a few reasons:

  1. Decreased blood flow: Cold temperatures can reduce blood flow to the extremities, which might cause stiffness.
  2. Muscle tightening: Muscles around the joints may tighten up to conserve heat, adding to the feeling of stiffness and discomfort.
  3. Barometric pressure changes: Changes in barometric pressure can affect joint pressure, potentially increasing pain.

Tips to manage osteoarthritis in cold weather

1. Stay warm

Dress in layers to keep your body warm. Wearing gloves, scarves, and warm socks can help protect extremities.

Use electric blankets or heating pads to warm yourself up before sleeping (take caution to have multiple layers between exposed skin and the heating pad).

Keep your home comfortably warm, and consider using a humidifier to maintain moisture in the air.

2. Stay active

Regular exercise can help maintain joint function and reduce stiffness. Try low-impact activities like walking, swimming, or yoga.

Warm-up before exercising and stretch afterwards to keep muscles and joints flexible.

Indoor activities can be particularly beneficial when it’s too cold outside.

3. Pain relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage pain.

Always consult your doctor before starting any medication.

Topical creams and gels that contain pain-relieving ingredients may provide temporary relief.

4. Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can help keep your joints lubricated.

5. Balanced diet

Eat a healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on your joints.

6. Joint protection

Use supports or braces if recommended by your physiotherapist.

These can help stabilise and protect your joints.

When to see a physiotherapist

If your osteoarthritis symptoms become severe or unmanageable, it’s important to seek professional help.

A physiotherapist can provide personalised exercises and treatments to help manage pain and improve joint function.

They can also advise on the best ways to stay active and protect your joints during the winter months.

Remember, taking small steps can make a big difference in your joint health and overall well-being.

Nerissa D’Mello