While winters do not cause arthritis, the cold weather is known to worsen aches and pains associated with the autoimmune disease. Experts say there are a variety of factors that make the winter season difficult for people suffering from arthritis. From changes in barometric pressure to blood vessels around joints turning stiffer, there are some additional challenges around arthritis in the cold season that can be easily overcome with a few lifestyle changes. Staying active, doing regular exercises, maintaining a good posture, avoiding high-impact activities are some of the things that can help you deal with the debilitating disease when the mercury drops. (Also read: Arthritis: 5 lifestyle changes to help relieve pain and swelling)
WHY WINTER IS TROUBLE-SOME FOR PEOPLE WITH ARTHRITIS
“Arthritis is a leading cause of pain and disability worldwide. There are many theories for increased pain during winters, most common one is that people suffering from arthritis and other joint issues may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. This could be due to the worn-out cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint, which would cause nerves in the exposed bones to pick up on the changes in pressure. Another theory is that in winters our body starts to conserve heat and send a larger amount of blood to the organs located at the core. In such circumstances, the blood vessels present in the arms, legs, shoulders, knee joints become stiff, leading to pain and discomfort,” says Dr RA Purnachandra Tejaswi, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon with Special Interest in Sports Medicine, Reconstructive Arthroscopy and Joint Preservation Surgery, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad.
PEOPLE WITH SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE FACE MORE TROUBLE
Dr. Manoj Kumar Gudluru, Senior Consultant, Orthopedic & Joint Replacement Surgeon, CARE Hospitals, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad says people with sedentary jobs are likely to face more issues with arthritis during winter season as compared to those who are physically more active.
“During winter, muscle, tendon, and synovium stiffness occur because the synovial fluid present in the kneecap thickens in fewer temperatures. This intends the tight muscles around the knee to create friction when there is movement and creates flakes on the surface. The lesser release of synovial fluid results in osteomalacia changes. These touch the nerves which increase pain in patients suffering from arthritis. Laborers and daily wage workers often do not face these issues as they are prone to continuous physical activities. This produces heat in the joints in turn releasing synovial fluid. On the other hand, people with sedentary jobs or desk jobs are not exposed to sunlight or physical activities regularly which makes them victims of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis in the long run. We come across such cases among youngsters aged between 18 to 40 years,” says Dr Gudluru.
COLD CAN REDUCE PAIN THRESHOLD
Dr Narayan Hulse, Director – Department of Orthopedics, Bone & Joint Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road says cold can reduce threshold for pain, cause muscle spasms and reduce blood circulation.
“Even though arthritis is neither caused nor worsened structurally by cold weather, many people experience increased pain and stiffness of joints during winter. Lifestyle changes can help avoid arthritis pain in winter,” says Dr Hulse.
LIFESTYLE CHANGES FOR ARTHRITIS PATIENTS IN WINTER SEASON
Dr Hulse suggests the following lifestyle changes for people with arthritis during winters:
• Equipping yourself with winter clothes, home-heating etc. to keep yourself warm.
• Exercises like brisk walking in the sun or gym activities not only increase your metabolic heat but also help to improve joint function. Also indulging in some sports activities may help your body and mind.
• Consumption of healthy foods especially fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, and seeds.
• Vitamin D supplements are proven to be beneficial.
• Warm baths, warm pool swimming, or warm pool exercises help in maintaining body heat.
Dr RA Purnachandra Tejaswi says paying attention to your joints whether sitting, standing or engaging in activity is important.
“Keep your joints moving. Do daily, gentle stretches that move your joints through their full range of motion. When you have arthritis, movement can decrease your pain and stiffness, improve your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, and increase your endurance. Use good posture. A physical therapist can show you how to sit, stand and move correctly. Manage weight as being overweight can increase complications of arthritis and contribute to arthritis pain. Making incremental, permanent lifestyle changes resulting in gradual weight loss is often the most effective method of weight management,” says Dr Tejaswi, adding, “Know your limits. Balance activity and rest, and don’t overdo.”
Dr Tejaswi says the following things must be avoided by arthritis patients:
– Avoid activities that involve high impact and repetitive motion, such as running, jumping, high-impact aerobics, repeating the same movement, such as a tennis serve, again and again.
– Quit smoking. Smoking causes stress on connective tissues, which can increase arthritis pain.
Need for a healthy lifestyle
“A healthy lifestyle is very crucial at any stage of life. It is important to start early to take care of your body. It is suggested to do joint strengthening and suppleness exercises. Additionally, they should keep themselves warm and relax the muscles around the joints,” says Dr Gudluru.
He suggests the following tips for arthritis patients during winters:
– Protecting the skin around the joint area is very important because when the skin becomes dry, it causes a burning sensation over the joints.
– Moisturizers containing vitamins A and E will ease the pain.
– Enough exposure to the sun (Vitamin D) will help in building and improving the bones.
– People with rheumatoid arthritis should take warm tub baths to ease the pain.
– Exercise helps the knees release adequate amounts of synovial fluid for better movements.
– A balanced diet with a rich amount of Vitamin D, and Vitamin C, Omega 3 fatty acids, ginger, soya bean, fatty fish, green vegetables, nuts and seeds, plenty of water, and other collagen supplements will be helpful in joints and bone care during winter.