If you have arthritis you may find your symptoms worsen in the winter. Scientists don’t fully understand why cold weather tends to make chronic pain symptoms feel worse. It may be that our body’s pain receptors become more sensitive when the temperature drops. Some experts believe the pressure inside our joints may be affected by atmospheric pressure.
One thing is for sure, most of us tend to slow down and do less exercise in the winter months. We are more likely to want to snuggle up indoors in front of the TV but for people with arthritis, this can be detrimental. The fact is we need to exercise to stay healthy and keep our joints supple. Understanding more about your condition and why it’s important to stay active can help to motivate you when it’s cold outside and the temptation is to give exercising a miss.
What is arthritis?
Although people use the term “arthritis” to refer to a particular set of symptoms (joint pain, stiffness, swelling and loss of mobility), there are actually more than 100 different types of arthritis and associated conditions. And, although many older people are affected by arthritis, the disease can affect people of any age.
The most common forms of arthritis are:
- Osteoarthritis – Also called degenerative or wear and tear arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease. It is caused by degeneration of the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones. The result is that bone starts to rub against bone, causing swelling, pain and stiffness. Over time, the pain may become chronic and there is a loss of mobility and flexibility in the joint.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is an autoimmune condition, which means the body’s own immune system mistakenly starts to attack its own joints. This causes inflammation that damages the joints and other parts of the body, including the eyes and internal organs.
- Psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout are all forms of inflammatory arthritis.
Why it’s important to keep moving
Exercise helps to keep your joints supple and flexible which helps to reduce stiffness and combat the pain of arthritis. The body is designed for movement and being too sedentary is bad for the soft tissues around your joints.
Ultimately, not using your muscles weakens them so they become unable to hold you in the right position, causing even more aches and pains. Exercising improves your circulation which helps you to feel warmer and it is good for your overall feeling of wellbeing.
Ways to keep more active in winter
Here are some positive steps you can take to help yourself keep fit and active in the colder winter months:
- Wear warm, breathable and waterproof clothes – Getting outside for a walk is a great way to exercise but make sure you choose appropriate clothing. Thin layers are better at trapping and retaining heat than thicker clothes and a hat can help prevent heat loss through your head. Fur-lined boots and shoes will help to keep your feet warm, making it easier to keep warm throughout your body. Choose footwear that fits well and has a good tread to help prevent slips and falls in icy weather.
- Go outside in the middle of the day once early frost has thawed and before the sun sets causing temperatures to fall. A walk in the fresh air will not only help to keep you mobile but it is also good for your psychological wellbeing.
- Housework counts as exercise too. Why not try putting on your favourite music so you find yourself cleaning with an extra spring in your step?
- Eat a nourishing diet with regular hot meals and drinks. Too much alcohol can make you feel colder, causing heat to be deflected from your core towards the skin.
- Keep your home warm – at least 18 degrees – if you have chronic pain or are over the age of 65. A warm bath or shower can help ease painful joints and an electric blanket or hot water bottle can also ease stiffness.
- There are plenty of exercises you can do at home. A physiotherapist can suggest a tailored regime to help you stay fit and flexible, or try an online yoga or Pilates class. Try to do some form of exercise every day. You can vary it between getting outside for a vigorous walk to doing the vacuuming to following a tailored exercise plan. It is a good idea if you incorporate stretching exercises, strengthening exercises and exercises to boost your overall fitness levels.
- Make sure you choose things that you really enjoy and set realistic goals for yourself so you don’t become discouraged.
If you are concerned about joint pain and stiffness or you’re looking for treatment, pain relief or advice following a diagnosis of arthritis, talk to Castle Orthopaedics. We can offer diagnosis, surgical and non-surgical treatments to help you stay fit and active all your round.
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