Surviving winter with arthritis
Can you feel bad weather coming in your joints? It isn’t just an old folk tale—cold weather really can make arthritis worse.
“Colder weather can affect the signs and symptoms of arthritis for some people,” says Dr. Leslie J. Crofford, Rheumatology Division chief and director of the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Health at the University of Kentucky. “Cold and damp weather can cause tendons, ligaments, and muscles surrounding joints to contract, causing an increase in joint and muscle pain.”
Cold weather increases pain
A study recently presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting confirmed that as temperatures fall, arthritis pain increases in most sufferers of this common ailment.
The study looked at the patients’ disease activity score, tender joint count, swollen joint count, health assessment questions, pain scale, laboratory test results that indicated amount of pain and inflammation, and response to treatment. Results indicated that patients experienced a significant decrease in pain from spring to fall, and an equally marked increase from fall to spring.
Try heat and exercise
If you are one of the unfortunate people who greet winter with creaky knees and stiff hands, there are things you can do to ease the pain.
Crofford suggests keeping as warm as possible, taking warm showers, and applying local heat to affected areas for short periods of time to help relieve joint stiffness and pain (heating pads and hot water bottles are effective tools).
Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises may also help keep arthritis pain to a minimum in cold weather. If your doctor agrees that it would be suitable, you can try a beginner-level yoga class, or buy a yoga DVD to use at home, to keep yourself limber. Also do some exercises using weights or resistance suitable for your fitness level.
If you experience arthritis-related swelling, use an ice pack. Also, be sure not to miss doses of medication prescribed for your arthritis or pain.
Symptoms of arthritis
General symptoms of arthritis include the following:
• Pain and stiffness in the joints
• Swelling in one or more joints
• Continuing or recurring pain or tenderness in a joint
• Difficulty using or moving a joint in a normal manner
• Warmth and redness in a joint
“New treatments and medications are now available,” Crofford says. “It is important for each person to be aware of what triggers their pain so they can work with their doctor to more effectively manage their treatment.”
Forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common, and occurs in most people as they age, although young people may also experience it as a result of injury or overuse of joints.
For more information on arthritis and other health conditions, go online to www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu to the “Health Information” menu, and choose “Illnesses and Conditions.”
WINTER WEATHER TIPS FOR ARTHRITIS PATIENTS
• Dress warmly and use plenty of blankets
• Take warm showers
• Keep indoor temperatures comfortably warm
• Use heating pads and hot water bottles
• Apply ice to swollen joints
• Take all prescription medications regularly