Spoiler alert! Cold weather can worsen your joint pain. Learn more about why inside.
Jan 2022. This article is independently written by Shelby Golding. All opinions given are hers. Shelby has been certified as a personal trainer and nutritional specialist since 2007. In 2008, she found her passion for writing about these topics and hasn't looked back.
A common theme as you get older is an attraction to places with warm weather. Seniors retire to the sunny metropolises of the south, a more comfortable situation than braving the icy, treacherous streets of the north. Many of those who migrate south in the winter also do so because the heat is better for joint pain.
According to the CDC, one in four Americans suffers from joint pain at some point in their life. Joint pain becomes more common the older you get, although you do not have to be past middle age to experience it. Often, joint pain results from inflammation in the joints due to a disease such as arthritis or lupus, strain due to weight gain or repetitive use, or infectious diseases like mumps, influenza, and hepatitis. No matter what caused your joint pain, the cold weather will most likely make it worse.
Learn why the cold has such a negative effect on joint pain and a few strategies to keep your joints warm throughout the long winter.
Cold, Rain, or Humidity?
Barometric pressure is more than a change from hot to cold. Humidity, precipitation, and elevation can also affect joint pain. However, scientists aren't certain which of these factors causes an increase in joint pain or a combination of all of them. Since temperature changes often come alongside changes in humidity and precipitation, it can be difficult to determine if one influences more than another.
Studies of the effect on barometric pressure and arthritis are also inconclusive. One survey may show an increase in arthritis pain when the temperature dropped, and the barometric pressure was low. Another may show that an increase in barometric pressure causes an increase in pain.
The only definite conclusion that they can draw is that the changes in weather affect everybody differently.
Cold Weather's Effect on the Body
When your grandmother tells you that she feels the rain coming in her bones, she is feeling an achy and stiff feeling in her joints in reaction to the inclement weather. While scientists are not certain about the exact link between cold and joint pain, they do agree that cold weather causes muscles to stiffen and synovial fluid to thicken.
The cold restricts blood flow and increases blood pressure. Any movement will raise your internal body temperature and increase blood flow throughout the body. If you’ve ever tried working out first thing in the morning without a warm-up, you know firsthand that your muscles are less flexible before a workout than afterward. Your muscles literally “warm up” with movement.
Cold weather also thickens the synovial fluid in your joints which makes your joints feel stiff and increases nerve sensitivity. The synovial fluid in your joints cushions the ends of your bones and reduces friction as you move.
The combination of restricted blood flow and thick synovial fluid makes movement more difficult in cold weather. If you suffer from joint pain, low-impact exercises like yoga, dancing, or swimming are all great ways to recharge your synovial fluid and warm up the muscles.
How to Take Care of Your Joints
You don't have to fly south for the winter to prevent seasonal joint pain. Instead, try a few of these easy-to-do self-care activities to improve circulation and reduce inflammation in the joints.
People tend to stay indoors for longer during periods of inclement weather, and the lack of movement and exercise has a negative effect on our joints. One of the simplest solutions to joint pain and stiffness is to exercise as consistently as possible. If you already have joint pain, low-impact exercise is the best place to start.
2. Mental Health
Cold weather is accompanied by shorter days, less sunlight, and fewer activities. Studies have shown that people who struggle with anxiety or depression have a lower pain tolerance. Be sure to take care of your mind as well as your body and try talking to a therapist or someone close to you if you are struggling with your mental health.
3. Eat A Healthy Diet
Your diet influences your health in a myriad of ways. For example, inflammation from an unhealthy diet of fast food or an unbalanced diet lacking in fruits and vegetables can increase stiffness and swelling in the joints. A poor diet can also cause weight gain, putting added pressure on the knees, ankles, and feet.
While the amount that you sleep doesn't directly affect joint pain, poor sleeping habits have been shown to increase inflammation throughout the body. They can also negatively affect your mental health. The best sleep practices start with a routine: turn off your phone, leave plenty of time between your final meal and bedtime, and practice relaxation techniques. The more consistent you are, the better.
5. Stay Warm
Warm showers, steam rooms, light exercise, heavy layers, and plenty of space heaters can really make a difference in the cold months. So, keep your space warm and find ways to get your blood moving to combat the cold weather.
Any activity that gets your blood flowing will help combat the effects of cold weather on the joints. If none of the solutions above work for you, you could also try using heat packs, visiting a sauna, or taking a hot bath!
Take Care of You
Everyone's body reacts differently to the cold weather. Some people lose circulation, others their motivation, but if you have an increase in joint pain, the best thing you can do is keep moving. Take care of your body through the changes of the season to decrease joint pain and be sure to talk to your doctor if your joint pain suddenly worsens or increases dramatically with the weather.
As you wait out the cold weather in your area, don’t forget to use your Kailo patch to manage increased joint pain. Kailo is easy to use, just place it near the site of pain and enjoy your day with more pep in your step!