We’ve all seen it: Someone rubs a hip, knee, elbow or finger joint and declares that a storm is on the way. Do they really know? Well, studies show that any change in barometric pressure—which is the force exerted by the atmosphere—during cold or damp weather can cause an inflammatory response in joints. That’s because the ligaments surrounding the joints contain nerve endings that react to barometric and temperature changes—and can trigger joint pain or even cause headaches in some people.
Research also suggests that during cold weather, the body will conserve its heat by sending more blood to the organs in the center of the body, like the lungs and heart. When that happens, there is less blood flow to the arms, legs, shoulders and knee joints, making those areas colder and stiffer, which can cause discomfort and increase pain in some areas.
When it’s cold, go for warmth
If you’ve noticed that cold weather is causing you joint pain flare-ups or headaches, or exacerbating other chronic pain, take heart. There are many things you can do to combat the frigid effects of winter. For example, you can:
- Dress in Warm Layers
Keep your aching hands warm in gloves and wear lots of layers so you can keep muscles, ligaments and joints comfortable as outside temperatures shift throughout the day.
- Stretch It Out
As we get older, joints get stiffer, so develop a daily stretching program to combat the stiffness that can lead to pain.
- Keep Moving
Don’t cut down on physical activity in the colder months. This will only lead to a decreased range of motion and exacerbate any joint pain you might be experiencing. Adapt your exercise program by bringing your aerobics workout indoors.
- Use Heat
Fight the cold by incorporating heat therapy into your routine. Swim in a heated pool, soak in a hot tub, apply a heating pad to a painful area for temporary pain relief, or try an over-the-counter heat pack for joint-related back pain.
- Stay Hydrated
Even mild dehydration can make you more sensitive to pain, so don’t stop drinking water just because it’s cold outside. If water doesn’t appeal as much during the winter months, supplement your intake with some hot herbal tea.
- Get Your Vitamin D
Studies show that having low levels of Vitamin D in your system might play a role in how sensitive you are to arthritis pain. Because you’re less likely to get enough Vitamin D from sunlight during the winter, talk to your doctor about Vitamin D supplements or foods.
- Add Some Spice to Your Life
Certain spices can help you stay warm during the coldest times of the year, so add some extra zip to your meals. Cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and cayenne all have active compounds that help raise our core body temperature.
The bottom line is that even though chronic pain can worsen once the temperature dips, the pain can be manageable if you just take the time to add a few new routines to your day. They’re sure to make you feel warm all over.