Arthritis and Cold Weather

If your joints can predict the next winter storm, chances are you’re not the only armchair meteorologist.

“Many people will report, ‘I can tell before the weather man says a storm is coming because I have more aching in my joints,’” says Michael T. Diment, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon with ProMedica Physicians. When it comes to changes in the weather, Dr. Diment is all too familiar with these types of complaints.

Modern medicine hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly what goes on inside the joints when the weather shifts, but one common theory is a change in barometric pressure causes the joint discomfort. And just as the weather comes and goes, so does the pain.

People need to know that even though they feel worse, their arthritis is not getting worse. It’s a temporary worsening of how they feel because they have arthritis. The pain is real and worse for some than for others. It never is so intense that people become bedridden, but unfortunately it’s just one more thing the arthritis patients have to deal with.

While theories point to barometric pressure as the culprit, Dr. Diment doesn’t discount the cold. He explains keeping joints warm with extra layers of clothing, blankets, and even hot showers can help alleviate stiff and achy joints.

“Cold joints don’t move as well as warm joints, and just as an athlete warms up, it helps someone with arthritis to limber up. Warming up helps the joint perform better.”

Living with joint pain is one reason some people choose to immerse themselves completely in warmer, dryer climates for relief during the winter months. Despite some finding comfort in the Florida sunshine, flying south for the winter isn’t a solution for everyone.

When the sting of cold weather has you headed indoors, skipping exercise and not eating right can do more harm than good. Dr. Diment says many of his patients will come to see him in the spring, complaining of increasing joint pain. Oftentimes, the extra winter pounds and inactivity-not the weather-are the main reason they are hurting more.

“From a general health perspective, it’s just a good idea to lose some extra pounds. That extra weight puts strain on joints, and that can be a sign of why joints can be worse in the cold weather.”

For someone with arthritis, just a bend of the knee can be a struggle, but it’s important to keep moving.

“So many people use the fact that they have arthritis or are overweight as an excuse to not exercise. Granted, the pain is real and you cannot ignore that, but working through a little pain can result in a good gain. If a little pain stops you every time you start to exercise, you will never make any progress.”

Dr. Diment says it’s important to look at your exercise routine to see what works best for you. If a certain activity bothers you, modify it for what works, start slow, and maintain a routine every day.

“Sometimes we do refer patients to physical therapy to be exposed to a type of exercise they might not have considered. Supervision can really help a person get started on a program that is best suited for them and they can continue on their own.”

If you’re interested in beginning an exercise routine tailored to your needs, find out how ProMedica Wildwood Athletic Club can help you get started.