If you suffer from arthritis, winter is less a call for celebration, snowball fights, and snuggly evenings on the sofa, and more a cause of worry, anxiety and – sadly – pain. Colder weather seems to usher in a worsening of arthritic symptoms, and the winter months can often leave those suffering from its effects with low moods, bed bound, and even worse off than they were a year ago. So in this post, we’re looking at exactly why colder weather affects arthritic joints, how you can avoid the pain associated with this, and ultimately, how you can move forward knowing that the colder months will no longer be a cause of anxiety in your life. Let’s get started.
Because arthritis affects the joints of the body, it’s clear that the colder weather plays a role in these areas. When it gets colder, joints tend to expand due to the synovial fluid in between the joints increasing in thickness. Essentially, synovial fluid aids in the fluid movement of joints, that is, movement without pain. When this fluid increases in thickness and viscosity, ease of movement decreases, thereby causing a ‘rubbing’ effect and, in essence, a lot of discomfort and pain. Hence, arthritis symptoms are greatly exacerbated.
Now, the thing is that, if you’re like so many other people suffering from weather-related joint pain, specifically in terms of arthritis, it might just seem easier to ‘wait it out’. And I understand that. Sitting still, not really addressing the issue, and waiting for the pain to pass seems like a logical thing to do. Unfortunately, this response only serves to make things worse in the long term. As the discomfort lies in the joints, not moving them or allowing the synovial fluid to heat and become fluid once more, means that the problem actually gets worse and the pain will exponentially increase. So, staying still and hoping the pain will disappear actually does you no favors – it’s far better to take decisive action against the pain, and I’m here to help you do it. Let’s take a look at a few tips for you:
If you think this is a little self-explanatory, do not give up reading just yet. There are specific exercises that you can do to improve your arthritic pain, thereby increasing mobility and quality of life. To name but a few, you could try the following:
- Arms over head raises: slowly raise your arms above your head, hold for 5 – 10 seconds, and gently drop them down again. Repeat this consecutively for 3 – 5 minutes at a time.
- Roll your shoulders: keep your shoulders mobile by rolling them forwards and backwards in a controlled manner. Make sure your neck doesn’t slump forward, and be careful of overstretching the muscles. Listen to your body and keep moving your shoulder for 3 – 5 minutes at a time.
- Finger curls: if you suffer from arthritis in your hands, this one is a must-do! Curl your fingers in and out, increasing their mobility. Make sure you stretch your fingers out when you curl them back out, and curl them in in a controlled motion. This will increase the heat in your joints, thereby increasing mobility and ultimately decreasing pain.
Please remember that any exercises you do need to be low-impact. Any impact you inflict on your joints could exacerbate the arthritis and therefore the pain. Always be sure to listen to your body, and if you have any doubts or questions, speak to a qualified, hands-on physical therapist for help.
- Keep your Weight in Check
As arthritis is related to the joints, extra weight translates into extra pressure placed on them. By eating healthy and maintaining a good BMI, you will decrease the pressure on your joints and thereby decrease the pain. Try to eat more vegetables, less processed food, and avoid sugar.
- Keep Hydrated
I think you’ll know why this is included… synovial fluid is made up of a large percentage of water. If you do not have enough water in your body, the synovial fluid thickens. This, combined with colder weather, is a recipe for disaster. Be sure to drink enough water – if you are a woman, aim for 1.5l – 2l per day, and if you’re a man, aim for 2l – 2.5l a day.
These tips aside, what happens when you do experience a flare up? How can you reduce the pain in that moment? Once thing to try is applying some heat at 10 minute intervals: this heats the synovial fluid, thereby allowing for ease of movement and a decrease in pain. You could also stretch, as stretching allows the fluid to move. It will also ease pressure in the joints, thereby lessening discomfort and pain.
That having been said, arthritis – especially during the winter – can be very difficult to face. It isn’t easy, and the daily pain can be debilitating. That’s why contacting and speaking to a hands-on qualified physical therapist is the best thing you can do. Not only will a physical therapist be able to treat the root cause of the problem, thereby ensuring lasting pain eradication, but he/she will also equip you with all the tools, exercises, stretches, and knowledge you need to face flare ups and winters on your own, at home. Physical therapy will enable you to understand how arthritis works, what you personally can do to avoid the pain, and it will give you the confidence to tackle the potential of future flare ups with tailor-made programs and exercises.
This winter, make sure that arthritis doesn’t get you down. Don’t let the pain keep you from spending time with your family or making the most of the beautiful winter months. The tips above aim to give you a glimpse into the benefits of proactive action, and we truly hope that they help. For more information, advice, treatment, or simply a shoulder to lean on, why not contact one of our professional, friendly physical therapists, today? We look forward to getting you back to the life you deserve: one that is pain free and full of joy.