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4 Essential Tips to Cope with Arthritis Symptoms in Winter

4 Essential Tips to Cope with Arthritis Symptoms in Winter

If cold weather is something you “feel in your bones,” you’re not alone — winter is a time of increased joint pain and stiffness for many people, especially those who live with osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), gout, or some other form of arthritis.  

While experts don’t know exactly why colder temps aggravate arthritis-related joint pain and stiffness, they do know that joints function best in mild, temperate weather. Research indicates that approaching cold fronts and winter weather may affect joints in three ways:

If your arthritic joints tend to feel stiff and more sensitive to pain in the winter, we can help. Here, our expert team of board-certified orthopedists at Sports Medicine Oregon offers four essential tips for better arthritis management when the cold weather hits.  

1. Dress in warm layers 

Keeping your body warm is the first rule of effective wintertime arthritis management. This means dressing in thermal layers when you head outdoors. Besides keeping your joints warm, dressing in layers allows you to control your comfort level if the temperature shifts.   

 Pay particular attention to areas where you tend to feel the most joint discomfort: Insulate your hands and wrists with warm gloves and liners, protect your knees and hips with long underwear or windproof pants, shield your ankles and feet with wool socks, and cover your shoulders and elbows with a thermal base layer under your shirt and jacket. 

 If your house is chilly, consider using an electric heating pad or blanket to keep yourself warm when you’re relaxing. Soaking in a hot bath can help loosen stiff joints, boost blood flow, ease muscle tension, and flush pain-producing chemicals. 

2. Keep your body moving

Many people tend to move less in the winter, prompted to stay indoors by the colder weather and shorter days. But no matter what the season, regular exercise is the single best thing you can do to keep your joints happy. 

 Your joints are made to move, and when they don’t move often enough, arthritis pain and stiffness tends to worsen. Physical activity increases joint strength and flexibility and boosts your energy levels. It also releases a flood of feel-good hormones that can ease joint pain.

If your joints are extra achy in the winter, consider joining a gym and taking your exercise program inside for a few months. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise a week, plus two strength training sessions. Warmup stretching — particularly before outdoor activity — helps loosen stiff joints and prepare them for movement. 

Exercise is also a key component of successful weight management. Keeping your weight in check is an important part of effective arthritis symptom control, and is especially helpful for weight-bearing joints like knees and hips.

3. Hydrate and eat well

Drinking plenty of water through the dry, cold winter season supports joint health in several ways. Staying hydrated flushes toxins from your body, eases inflammation, keeps your joints well-lubricated, and prevents gout attacks. Dehydration, on the other hand, can trigger arthritis symptom flares.  

Eating a wholesome, anti-inflammatory diet can also help keep arthritis symptoms at bay. While this can be a challenge during the winter holiday season, you won’t do your joints any favors by indulging in inflammatory dietary choices like sweets and snacks, refined carbs, processed and red meats, alcohol, or sugary drinks. 

Instead, aim to get plenty of dietary fiber (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains), choose lean protein sources (poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu), and stick with heart-healthy unsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado, salmon). 

 

Nutrients that are known for their powerful anti-inflammatory effects can alleviate joint pain or keep it at bay. These include omega-3 fatty acids, which you can get from walnuts, flaxseeds, leafy green vegetables, and fatty fish, and the polyphenols found in all berries. 

4. Get enough vitamin D

Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Here in Oregon, many people don’t get enough of this “sunshine vitamin” simply because of the higher prevalence of rainy, overcast days; but even in sunnier climates, many people have a vitamin D deficiency — especially in the winter. 

You may know that vitamin D plays a critical role in bone health, but did you know that low vitamin D levels are linked to more severe arthritis symptoms as well as increased sensitivity to pain? When regular access to direct sunshine isn’t possible, we recommend getting more vitamin D in your diet or taking a supplement.

For more expert arthritis management tips, call your nearest Sports Medicine Oregon office in Tigard or Wilsonville, Oregon, today, or schedule an appointment online any time.

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