If you suffer from arthritis, you may experience an increase in the severity of your symptoms during the winter. Although experts aren’t completely sure why, it’s certainly true that colder weather leads to an increase in joint pain and stiffness for many people. It is believed that barometric pressure may play a role – the lower the pressure, the higher the pain levels.
What is arthritis?
There are many different types of arthritis but the most common is osteoarthritis, also called wear and tear arthritis. Cartilage which normally cushions the joints starts to wear away and the ends of the bones may rub together. The body reacts by trying the make the bone surfaces wider by forming bone spurs. Eventually the bone surfaces harden and may crack allowing joint fluid to leak in and cause cysts. The condition, which can occur at any age but is more common as we get older, is degenerative meaning it worsens as time goes on. It can affect various joints in the body, some more common than others. Here at Thames Shoulder and Elbow we treat patients with:
- Shoulder arthritis– which causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint may catch or make popping or crunching noises and the pain may be a constant dull ache or characterised by intermittent flare-ups. The smaller joint at the outer end of the collar bone (AC joint) or the larger main ball and socket joints, or both, can be affected.
- Elbow arthritis– this is less common than shoulder arthritis due to the relative stability of the elbow joint. However, it can be triggered by injury to the elbow resulting in instability or a loss of joint cartilage. Symptoms include pain and loss of movement, often accompanied by a grating or locking sensation in the elbow. As the condition develops numbness can occur in the ring finger and little finger due to pressure on a nearby nerve.
So, what can you do to manage your symptoms better this winter?
Taking care of your symptoms in winter
There are some steps you can take to reduce the impact of cold, wet winter weather, including:
- Dress warmly – the best way to keep warm is with several light layers rather than a single bulky item of clothing. Thermal vests or tights are ideal and wearing a hat will help prevent heat loss from your head. If hand arthritis makes it difficult to find gloves that fit you, try mittens instead.
- Keep your home warm
- An electric blanket can keep you cosy in bed and can help to ease the stiffness of painful joints, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
- Stay indoors on very cold days and if you do go out, even if it’s just for a few minutes, make sure you wear a coat so your joints don’t get cold.
- Wear sturdy footwear – if you have arthritic joints, you may be more susceptible to trips and falls. Always wear study footwear with good treads and avoid walking on roads and pavements where there may be black ice.
- Keep moving – it’s important to keep your joints supple and flexible by exercising and stretching. If it’s too cold to exercise outside, try some simple indoor exercises such as yoga stretches or pilates.
Year-round ways to manage arthritis
There are other measures you can take to ease the symptoms of arthritis at any time of year, such as:
- Maintaining a healthy body weight – being overweight puts added pressure on damaged joints and can increase pain. By sticking to a healthy, balanced diet you will not only feel better but you will also help to relieve joint pain.
- Keep moving – being too sedentary with cause joint stiffness to set in faster. Try to exercise frequently, within the limits of any discomfort that you feel. Avoid using heavy weights though.
- Stay well-hydrated – this is important for your overall health but also because even mild dehydration can make you more sensitive to pain.
- Take simple painkillers – paracetamol is a safe and effective medication with very few side effects. Consider using it on a regular basis to relieve or take the edge off your pain. Anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) can also help but just use them to control flare ups as and when required, as prolonged use can cause issues with the stomach and kidneys.
- Talk to your orthopaedic consultant about possible treatment options such as injections of corticosteroids to relieve pain. If your condition is severe you may be offered joint replacement surgery.
- Add a fish oil supplement to your diet – Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce the levels of inflammation in your body, helping to relieve some of the pain of arthritic joints.
- Get enough sleep – this is important for your immune system and for your body’s natural healing process. A lack of sleep can increase low mood, which can often be linked to arthritis.
It makes sense to understand as much as you can about your condition and the steps you can take to relieve your symptoms. Talk to us for a diagnosis as well as specialist advice and information about treatment options.
Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London
Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist). We can also offer consultations either online or face-to-face.
Telephone: 020 376 15987