Arthritis Management in Winter

Arthritis is a condition involving joints and surrounding tissue. Cartilage lines the bones and absorbs shock; arthritis occurs when the cartilage breaks down and the bones make contact with each other. This causes pain, stiffness and swelling of the joint.

People with arthritis often report that their pain worsens during winter. Although there is no proven reason for this there are several sound theories: cold weather may sensitise the pain fibres in the joint capsule, not actually worsening the arthritis, but making the sufferer more sensitive to pain and changes in atmospheric pressure may distend the joint capsule, stretching nerve fibres and causing pain.

Behaviours also change during winter. People tend to exercise less and eat more, leading to weight gain which adds extra pressure to the joints, particularly the spine, knees and feet which bear a lot of the body’s weight.

Cartilage has no blood supply, so to remove waste products and provide nutrients it relies on synovial fluid (joint lubricant) moving in and out of the joint. If joints remain immobile they cannot effectively remove waste and gain nutrients so they seize up.

People who are suffering painful joints from arthritis will actually make them worse by resting. The hardest part can be getting them going, but regular exercise and range of motion activities can increase joint mobility and decrease the pain caused by arthritis. Strengthening exercises are also important to maintain muscle strength, providing support for the joints.

Although the cold weather can have an impact on arthritis it doesn’t cause arthritis. Make sure you dress warmly, particularly around those painful areas and keep moving to maintain good circulation to the joints.