Cold Weather Aches and Pains—Don’t let winter weather be a pain

December 2014/January 2015 View more

iStock_000028423746Large_800pxPeople often blame their pain on the weather. Some swear that the ache in their joints can predict rainy or chilly changes. It turns out, what’s happening outside may actually affect how you feel on the inside.

Heart Health

As we move through these coldest weeks of winter, the frigid air can spell heart trouble for some people. Not only does the chilly air, rain, and snow rob you of insulation, but bitter winds this time of year can steal the layer of heated air from around your body. And you have to be careful, hypothermia settles in when your body can’t create enough energy to keep your internal temperature warm enough. Heart failure is the most common cause of death associated with hypothermia. Anyone with heart disease is at a heightened risk. As we get older, our body has a harder time maintaining a normal internal temperature. Shoveling snow and simply trudging through heavy, snow can be a strain on your heart.

Asthma Alert

Cold weather can also signal trouble for asthma sufferers. Asthma attacks can occur more often in winter, especially if you’re over-exerting yourself and breathing hard. The rapid cooling of the airway causes it to swell. It’s best to cover your face with a scarf around your mouth and nose and keep your workouts indoors to avoid inhaling cold air.

Air Pressure and Joint Pain

Many people say that their aches and pains get worse when the weather is cold and wet. It’s probably not the bitter winds, snow, or rain that’s bringing on the pain. It’s most likely changes in barometric pressure. Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this change can sometimes trigger joint pain. The scientific evidence is conflicting, since other medical studies have found no link to weather changes and joint pain. “Currently, there is no strong consensus on the meteorological effects on joint functioning,” said Dr. Ruchi Jain, Rheumatologist, Rush University Medical Center. “However, between one and two-thirds of patients with rheumatic diseases, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, notice changes in their arthritic pain during weather changes. Some studies have shown that barometric changes, especially high humidity and cold temperatures, may cause changes in the tissue and capsule that line the joint spaces, which can, in turn, push on nerves and ultimately lead to pain,” said Dr. Jain.

Easing the Pain

So without much scientific data to support joint pain with certain weather conditions, what can you do when your aching joints act up in the winter? “As colder temperatures approach, it is important for individuals to take steps to reduce their potential joint pain. Keeping core temperatures, as well as extremities, warm by wearing layers is key. Also, warming the car up before getting in and using heating pads may also be a necessary intervention,” said Dr. Jain.

The bitter breezes, bare trees, and gray skies signal that winter has arrived. However, Dr. Jain says don’t let the cold weather put a freeze on your workout. “It’s also important for patients to realize that potential increase in pain is only temporary. Colder temperatures can cause patients to become less active, stay indoors and not get as much exercise. This can cause muscles and joints to stiffen up. It is especially important to continue to stretch and remain as active as possible indoors if possible. Restful sleep, getting the flu vaccine, and a healthy diet is also important in keeping healthy.”

Foods to Ease your Aches
Omega 3’s (salmon and nuts)
Vitamin K (spinach, kale, and cabbage)
Vitamin C (colorful fruits and veggies, red peppers, oranges, and tomatoes)