Baby, It’s Cold Outside

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Does the cold weather really affect chronic or arthritis pain?

We have all heard people say such things as “I can feel the rain coming” or “My body can tell there is a cold front on its way.” After 10 years of being a physical therapist, I have treated many patients that have chronic pain or pain from arthritis. It’s almost guaranteed that those patients will complain of increased stiffness or pain on those days. So, what’s the deal? Why do people hurt more on those days? A couple of theories as to why we hurt more on cold days are:

  1. Cold weather often means we are less active, because let’s face it…who wants to be outside in the cold Oklahoma blustery wind in January? When we are less active, our joints become stiff and muscles become weak. Weakness in our muscles over time, often results in joint pain.
  2. Cold temperatures decrease the circulation of blood within our bodies, especially to extremities. The joints in our bodies work best when there is a good blood supply, allowing the tissues around them to be more pliable. When the cold temperatures restrict the blood flow the tissues become stiff, which often correlates with pain.
  3. Changes in barometric pressure, like when a cold front pushes through, can often cause an inflammatory response in our bodies. In people who already suffer from arthritis (inflammation of the joints) their symptoms are often exaggerated by extreme changes in the barometric pressure.

So what can you do to help fight off the cold weather aches and pains?

  • Stay active!!! Keeping your flexibility and strength up by doing simple body weight exercises at home will help fight off some of the stiffness in the winter. Find somewhere indoors to walk. I tell all my patients to make a trip to Walmart or join the YMCA to stay moving in the winter.
  • Warm moist heat helps. Start taking a hot shower in the mornings to help get your body moving.
  • Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Often, we don’t drink enough water in the winter because we don’t feel that we need it. Surprisingly, our body needs almost as much water in the winter as it does in the summer. The joints in your body (hips, knees, hands, back) need fluid to stay moving properly. If you’re dehydrated, it will make your joints stiffer and increase your chance for muscle cramps.
  • Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Often in the winter months people’s vitamin D levels will drop because they are not outside as much. Low levels of Vitamin D will lead to muscle and joint pain.

If these tips don’t seem to be helping with all your cold weather aches and pains, it may be time to try physical therapy. We specialize in treating patients with chronic pain or arthritis and would love to get you moving again!

Michelle Johnson, PT, MPT, CFSC

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