01 Mar 2015

Does Cold Weather Really Affect our Joints?

How many of us have that aunt or grandparent who believes they can predict the weather based on the amount of discomfort in their knees or hands? Well, there just may be some truth to their claims. 

As the extreme cold weather continues to embrace our city, more and more patients are coming into the office complaining of joint pain and stiffness. Last year’s polar vortex had similar results, the amount of joint complaints seemed to double over the colder months. So, is there a link between joint pain and a drop in temperature? Surprisingly, current research is mixed. There is no hard evidence that explains this common phenomena but there are some sound theories which in my opinion, could explain this frequent complaint.

The most common theory involves barometric pressure, which is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. As pressure changes outside so does the pressure within our joints. The tissues surrounding the joints are like a balloon. High barometric pressure that pushes against the body from the outside will prevent joint tissues from expanding. Before a cold front sets in barometric pressure will usually drop, therefore the tissues surrounding the joint, a.k.a the balloon, are able to expand increasing pressure on the joints.

If suffering from joint inflammation, as is common with arthritis, a drop in the air pressure will result in increased swelling around that joint simply because there is less atmospheric pressure holding the tissue expansion back. This same tissue expansion can lead to increased stimulation of nerves in the area of the joint which will translate to pain.

Does this mean that the only relief for joint pain sufferers is to move to a warmer climate? No, there are things that can be done to help minimize discomfort. Try these pain relief tips when your joints act up this winter:

Get Moving
Although the science for the above theory is not concrete, there is evidence to suggest that we are less active in the winter months. This too can have a negative effect on our joints. Regular exercise helps to increase muscle and joint strength, improve flexibility and control weight gain. One of my favourite sayings is ‘motion is lotion’. Exercise helps to keep joints lubricating which can also decrease pain. If it’s too cold to go outside, consider setting up a small workout area in your home. Aerobic activity such as walking, biking and swimming are good especially since they require less pounding on the joints as other activities such as running. Strength training is also beneficial. Weight bearing exercises in particular, have been found to reduce the development of osteoporosis, especially in women.

Keep Warm
Dressing in layers is a good idea especially over the areas that are most sensitive. Mittens tend to keep the fingers and hands warmer than gloves. You may also consider doubling up on socks or using leggings to keep your knees, ankles and feet warm when outside.

Supplement your Diet
Consider incorporating natural anti-inflammatories into your diet. This can include turmeric and ginger. Both have been found to prevent inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other supplements that may be worth trying include Glucosamine or Chondroitin Sulphate and Avocado Soybean oils, both have been shown to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis.

Epsom salt soak/bath
Epsom salt contains the mineral Magnesium. It can be absorbed through the skin as you soak in a bath. The mineral helps relax skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which may occur during physical exertion. Magnesium also helps regulate muscle and nerve function. All of these effects significantly influence muscle soreness, which also affects muscle stiffness.

Fill a large bowl with luke warm water and add ½ cup of Epsom salt. Stir it around, and then submerge your sore joints in the liquid. If you are experiencing pain surrounding your knees or hips try taking a bath with Epsom salts. Run a tub full of warm water and add 2 cups of Epsom salt. Soak for at least 15 minutes.

Acupuncture has been found to reduce inflammation and decrease pain in both muscles and joints. I often use this therapy in my practice and have had great results. No, it does not hurt. Although you may feel some tenderness at insertion, the pain is much less than getting a flu shot.

Chiropractic Treatment
Although chiropractic treatment cannot cure joint conditions like arthritis, chiropractic care does help to reduce muscle tension and spasms associated with swollen joints. Regular chiropractic care is also effective in maintaining optimal joint health and can help to minimize the occurrence of certain joint conditions.
It is highly recommend that before you start any exercise program or invest in supplements, consult with your medical doctor.

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