Six tips for winter joint health
Many people find that their arthritis flares up in winter. If you suffer with joint pain in colder weather, here are six things you can do...
See also: Feeling swollen and achy? It could be down to inflammation
See also: Seven foods to ease the pain of arthritis
Several studies have found a link between osteoarthritis symptoms and different types of weather. One study from Tufts University in Boston, US, found that every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with an incremental increase in arthritis pain.
Why weather affects joint pain
So why does a change in temperature cause achy joints? Some experts suggest that when your body gets cold, it allows "slow" nerves to send more messages, which results in the body experiencing more pain. Another theory is that low temperatures might increase the stickiness of synovial fluid, which lubricates joints, making them stiffer and more sensitive to pain. In other words, weather changes don't make your arthritis worse as such – but it may make you more sensitive to the pain.
Longer term, it's important to watch your weight, stop smoking, exercise regularly, and see your doctor for regular medication reviews. In the meantime, here are six things you can do...
1. Keep warm and dress well
When you're feeling cold, your muscles stiffen, making them more prone to injury and general discomfort. If you're prone to achy joints, it's even more important to wear thermals, dress in layers, and wrap up well when you leave the house. On the subject of dressing appropriately, make sure to invest in a decent pair of winter boots with good grip, to help prevent falls.
2. Exercise with care
It's important to exercise to keep your joints supple in cold weather, but the last thing you want is to slip on icy pavements. Think about investing in an exercise bike or treadmill you can use at home, or go swimming in a warm pool. The water supports your weight and will help to keep your joints supple. Just take care to avoid breast stroke, which can put excessive strain on arthritic knees and hips.
Yoga and Pilates are both great for improving core strength and keeping you supple. If you don't want to leave the house when it's cold, follow a Pilates DVD at home. However, because many of the movements are precise and require good technique (to avoid the risk of exacerbating a problem), it's best to attend a class or two if possible. That way, the teacher can check you're doing it right.
3. Get plenty of sleep
Many people find that their joints feel more stiff and achy in the morning. For that reason, it's important to get enough sleep (and also why you should exercise later in the afternoon).
Researchers have found that the body releases an anti-inflammatory protein which naturally combats stiffness, but it only kicks into action when we're awake. According to scientists from the University of Manchester, spinal discs have their own 24-hour body clock - so waking up with a stiff back could simply mean you got out of bed before your spine thinks it's daytime.
4. Add some heat
If you suffer with stiff joints and sore muscles, a heat pack can help to soothe the pain and improve movement in colder weather. You can buy disposable heat packs that you warm in the microwave. However, if your joints are red, hot or swollen, a cold pack is the best way to reduce swelling and numb pain, making it a good choice when an arthritis flare-up first starts or joints become inflamed.
5. Eat more oily fish or take a supplement
Eating oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines could also help ease joint stiffness.
Researchers in Sweden found that women who ate one or more servings of oily fish a week had a 52 per cent lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis, compared to those who ate very little. Aim to eat two to three portions of fatty fish a week, or consider taking fish body oil, available from Amazon from £7.99.
Oily fish is rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have strong anti-inflammatory properties, and contains vitamin A and vitamin D3, which is important for maintaining healthy joints and plays an important role in bone health.
6. Take a supplement
Joint pain affects people differently - and a natural supplement that works for one person might not be effective for another. That said, if you have joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, capsaicin is definitely worth trying. Found to be the best supplement for the treatment of osteoarthritis in a survey by Arthritis Research UK, it works by reducing Substance P (which plays a key role in transmitting pain signals from nerve endings to the brain) and reduces tenderness in affected joints. You can buy it on prescription in the form of gels, creams and plasters.
SAMe, a chemical compound found naturally in the body, has been found to stimulate the production of cartilage and lessen pain in osteoarthritis sufferers. You can buy it from Amazon for £14.33. You might also want to try Indian frankincense capsules, available from Amazon from £4.86. The Ayurvedic remedy helps prevent the production of hormone-like substances in the body that act as triggers for joint inflammation. Studies suggest it's particularly helpful for people with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Glucosamine has been shown to ease joint pain and stiffness for some people, but not others, and Gopo, which is made from rose hips, has also been found to reduce joint pain.
Finally, it's important to see your doctor if you are suffering from joint pain. Your GP will be able to assess your symptoms and suggest the best treatment options for you.