Cold weather and arthritis pain – How can you prevent and treat arthritis flares in cold weather?

Jun 04, 2022
We've put together a list of simple preventative measures and management tips you can take to treat arthritis flares this cold season. Source: Getty

If you’re an arthritis sufferer, then it’s likely you’re aware of the effect cold weather has on joint discomfort. The colder months can often feel like they’re working against you and the inflammation in your joints can slowly become unbearable. But gone are the days you have to suffer in silence because Starts at 60 have put together a list of simple preventative measures and management tips that you can use to help treat arthritis flares this cold season.

What is cold/weather-related arthritis pain?

Cold-related arthritis refers to increased sensitivity and pain experienced by an arthritis sufferer as a result of cooler temperatures. Although the cold does not cause arthritis, it can certainly increase the development of uncomfortable aches and pains, leaving an arthritis sufferer particularly uncomfortable in colder environments. Research has found that the cold weather can affect both inflammatory (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus arthritis) and non-inflammatory arthritis sufferers (arthritis of thyroid disease, arthritis after injury, osteoarthritis). Health professionals have also suggested barometric pressure, otherwise known as atmospheric pressure. Falls could be a trigger for arthritis sufferers as the changing pressure can cause the body’s tissues to expand, increasing pressure on nerves which then trigger pain signals to the body. However, scientists are yet to pinpoint an exact reason for weather-related arthritis flare-ups.

How can you minimise symptoms of cold/weather-related arthritis pain?

Keep warm

It’s quite simple really, keep warm and keep mobile. Cold weather equals stiff joints for everyone – whether you’re an arthritis sufferer or not. Dress in warm clothing whenever possible and cover as many body parts as you can to ensure your rugged up and trapping all that wonderful hot body heat underneath. Apart from the obvious long pants and shirts, wear woollen jackets, gloves, beanies, scarves and socks to help keep the cold air out and the warm air in – your joints will thank you for it. Close the windows, pop the heater on it (if you have one) and layer up. Simples! An electric blanket could also be a great way to help maintain regular warmth in the body. Dr Vincent, Arthritis expert, explains, “By keeping our body warm, it helps our body’s natural system to maintain homeostasis, which means normal blood circulation, normal intra membrane and muscular pressure – all the things that can help prevent an inflammatory response inside our body. By maintaining a good circulatory system, it also allows our body to heal quickly, to tend to and respond to any inflammation quicker and better.”

Exercise regularly

With cold weather also comes the inevitable reality of increased procrastination when it comes to exercise. Exercise is a well-known remedy for keeping joints warm, agile and strong, and it’s even more essential during the colder months than ever. Feeling cold can often make us feel irritable and lazy which can consequently affect our desire to keep mobile, and for arthritis sufferers, decreased mobility won’t do you any favours. It is recommended that you strive to keep active where possible, with activities such as regular walking, indoor swimming, light mobility exercises and yoga/aerobics classes, just to name a few good options. Dr Vincent explains, “Exercising helps with our circulation, it maintains a good level of blood oxygenation as well as regulates our body temperature. All these things help our body to prevent inflammation to form in the first place. Exercising also helps to regulate and maintain our hormonal system. Many studies show a positive relationship between regular exercise and pain management. Exercise is essential to increase muscle and bone strength and also to combat stiffness. Together with a healthy diet, regular exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps to alleviate inflammation”.

Compression gloves

Cold and wet weather can have an affect on the body’s blood flow, causing a person’s joints to swell and creating severe discomfort, especially for those who suffer from arthritis. Wearing compression gloves can help to support and promote blood flow through the joints which will likely have a positive effect on joint mobility and comfort whilst in turn working to manage pain without the need for medication. Don’t have compression gloves? Try mittens – they are snug and warm all in one! Furthermore, according to Dr Vincent, “Beyond just keeping us warm, compression gloves or socks or garments, all help to maintain our soft tissue pressure and in many cases our circulation. The idea is that by helping our body to manage the circulation, we can help to prevent inflammation from forming”.

Diet and lifestyle

You’ve heard it before but a healthy diet and lifestyle is essential to decreasing inflammation build up in the body, especially if you’re a sufferer of arthritis.  “If there is a single superhero to combat inflammation, it is antioxidants – in particular activated phenolics” says Dr Vincent. Including all the recommended and necessary vitamins and minerals in your diet and making sure to eat a healthy balance of food groups will help ensure you keep your body well nourished which will, in turn, help to reduce the likelihood of an arthritis flare up. Dr Vincent explains, “There is a reason why mother nature provides us with antioxidant rich fruit and veggies in the colder season. Naturally, beetroot, carrot, apple, sweet potato, broccoli are all winter fruit and veggies. They are packed with antioxidants which help to protect our body from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can cause inflammation, which can cause painful swelling in the joints and also negatively affect our immune system. Activated phenolics are a type of antioxidants that are easily absorbed by our body and readily utilised by our body cells. Omega 3 fatty acids also help our body to combat inflammation. It is also wise to limit consumption of alcohol, fatty or fried foods and quit smoking or even vaping. These are the things that can trigger an inflammatory response in our body, which can cause a devastating chain of reactions which means the inflammation spreads around the body”.

It is also important to keep your mental health up to pare, and to ensure you get a nourished good night’s sleep in the process. Paying attention to your body and mind may seem irrelevant to the arthritis management but one should never underestimate the gut-body connection – a healthy diet, lifestyle and management of body weight are easily some of the most important factors to consider when dealing with uncomfortable arthritis flare ups and other health issues.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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