According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 27 million Americans have Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis is a condition resulting in the thinning of the cartilage around the bones. The cartilage cushions the joint so it can move and glide easily. The decrease in supportive cartilage around the bone causes an inflammatory response often leading to symptoms of pain or stiffness. Osteoarthritis can occur at a variety of joints including knees, hips, and hands to name a few body parts.
This can make daily activities difficult, including stairs, walking, gripping, standing from sitting, especially if you try to move after long periods of rest, such as sleeping or prolonged sitting.
A common question associated with arthritis is - “Why do my joints ache more in the winter?” Many people report they can predict the weather with their achy arthritis, but is it true? There may be some truth to the idea of our joints predicting the weather; however, there is little research at this time to support the idea of our bodies as a “Human Barometer”. Some studies suggest the scientific reason is the decrease in barometric pressure during a storm changes the pressure in our joints resulting in increased symptoms for arthritis. While researchers continue to perform studies to test the pressure change hypothesis, there are other reasons why the winter season may impact your joints.
Often in the winter, we are less likely to exercise, with reasons such as the colder days or maybe less daylight hours to walk outside. This may lead to more sedentary lifestyle in the winter and we may become more stiff. Exercise is very important as part of arthritis treatment. Exercise is necessary to help maintain strong muscles to support our bones. Also, exercise regulates our weight, as increased weight will negatively impact the force on our bones. Physical therapy may be helpful in developing an exercise program to treat the arthritis symptoms.
Often in the winter we tend to be more cold and feel tighter as we may be more contracted as we cringe and tighten up with the more frigid temperatures. However, it is important to stretch and stay loose. Try walking in your home for a few minutes as a warm up and take a few minutes to stretch. Using a little heat may help to feel less stiff for those achy joints too.
It easy to remember to hydrate in the warmer temperatures, but do not forget to drink lots of water in the winter as well. Our joints need fluid between the bones and in our tissues. Moreover, not only does drinking water help the joints but also prevents muscle cramping due to dehydration.
Lastly, the colder weather can leave us with winter blues. The seasonal depression may be attributed to the minimal exposure to natural lighting with the shorter days causing us to be less active. In addition, with less activity you will have less of the natural endorphins we experience with exercise and movement. To help promote more feelings of happiness be aware of the foods you eat, fluids intake, sleep patterns, exercise, and exposure to natural lighting and fresh air.