With fall comes cooler temperatures, and if you suffer from arthritis, you know arthritis pain often increases in cold weather. Whether you have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (RA), this pain can limit your ability to enjoy any normal activities requiring movement. However, fall weather doesn’t have to keep you from doing the things you love. Here are five ways you can help manage arthritis pain in cold weather:
Keep head, hands, and feet covered to manage arthritis
In cold weather conditions, some blood flow is diverted from our extremities to the critical organs of our core, such as our heart and lungs. This results in reduced blood flow to our joints, which can cause stiffness and pain. Wearing the right clothing when going outdoors can help you ease the chill. Dress in layers to stay warm, and wear socks and waterproof boots to avoid getting your feet wet or damp. Since internal body heat is lost most quickly through the head, hands, and feet, covering these body parts can help maintain the body’s internal warmth.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a balanced diet can help you keep off the extra pounds that can add more stress to your joints. Consider adding foods which can help fight inflammation that can cause joint pain, such as omega-3-rich fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel), soybeans, green tea, and walnuts.
Proper nutrition also ensures you get the vitamins and minerals you need. Recent studies suggest that low levels of vitamin D may be linked to the severity and progression of arthritis. You naturally get less vitamin D in the fall and winter, and being deficient might make your joints hurt more. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the following daily amounts of vitamin D:
- Adolescents aged 14-18 years: 600 International Units (IU)
- Adults aged 19-70 years: 600 IU
- Adults aged 71 and older: 800 IU
- Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women: 600 IU
Vitamin D is only absorbed by the body in the presence of calcium, so you also need to consume this mineral on a daily basis in food or by taking a supplement. Without needed Vitamin D and calcium, cartilage cell growth is adversely impacted.
Drink plenty of fluids
Staying hydrated is vital for flushing toxins out of your body and keeping your joints lubricated, which reduces joint pain and inflammation. It can also help you to maintain flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. The typical recommendation is eight glasses a day, however ask your doctor for a recommendation based on your activity level and health history. If plain water isn’t your thing, try adding berries or freshly cut cucumbers. You could also try green or black tea, which are both rich in polyphenols – plant compounds which have strong anti-inflammatory effects.
Stay active by moving indoors
Exercise eases arthritis pain, and staying active during cold weather can help prevent joints from becoming stiff. There are many physical activities that can be done indoors, and are easy to do:
- Riding a stationary bike
- Walking indoors
- Taking a low impact aerobics or yoga class
- Swimming in an indoor pool
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
Talk with your doctor about over-the-counter remedies
Topical pain medications – which often come in cream or gel form – can be rubbed on the skin over joints to relieve pain. Counterirritants, salicylates, or capsaicin are common ingredients in these products, and each works differently. Counterirritants, such as menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, create a temporary hot and/or cold sensation, which can interrupt pain signals to the brain. Salicylates are chemically similar to aspirin, and have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Capsaicin is derived from chili peppers, and is also believed to interfere with pain signals to the brain.
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium can help relieve arthritis pain. However, each pain medication comes with its own risks. Talk with your doctor to find out which, if any, of these medications may be right for you.
Steven M. Siwek, MD is founder and CEO of The Pain Center of Arizona. Dr. Siwek’s multi-disciplinary and integrative approach to preventing, treating, and eliminating chronic pain is advancing the way in which interventional and pain management services are accessed and delivered nationwide.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other medical education material.