If you have circled the sun more than a few times, you know that adapting to changing seasons is important for your quality of life. But did you know there are changes you can make during winter to better cope with arthritis? Arthritis affects just over half of all older adults and 80 percent of those living with osteoarthritis (OA) have minor to serious limitations in movement. We don’t yet have a good scientific understanding why some people experience more pain when the weather changes. Existing research shows that it’s not necessarily a specific climate (e.g., cold and damp) that causes pain, but rather a change in the local weather. Regardless of where people live, they adjust to their climate but may notice weather changes if they are susceptible to weather-related symptoms flare. The onset of colder weather is a good time for people with arthritis to seek out advice from their healthcare provider to create a winter weather arthritis management plan to make the season more comfortable. Managing Arthritis in Winter
Inflammation of the joints, particularly in the hands, knees and hips can create challenges when it comes to cold weather gear. Before getting dressed, you may apply heat to those joints to increase movement and decrease pain making it easier to pull on a sweater or button a shirt. However, self-treating joints and muscles with heat (or cold) should be done only with guidance from a physician.
Flares can make getting dressed exhausting. Try dressing in multiple thin, light layers which are easier to put on (and take off) and provide as much warmth as one thick sweater. Once dressed, consider which outer gear to wear and how to protect extremities like hands and feet. Look for clothes with functionality (e.g., ease of opening and closing), personal safety (thick-soled boots), and durability (weather protectant) in mind.
Exercise is crucial for older adults and it can be a great morale booster to stay active during winter even when weather is cold and days are shorter. General, pre-workout advice is to drink plenty of water and engage in a five-minute warm up of movement and light stretching.iv On days when sidewalks are clear and the sun is shining, walk outside to soak up some vitamin D. Here’s why this may be especially important. Studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D are associated with sensitivity to pain and a higher risk of developing brittle bones associated with osteoporosis. (You should still wear sunscreen to block harmful U.V. light.) If you are unable to go outside, taking a vitamin D supplement and eating a healthy diet rich in vitamin D are good alternatives.
If ice has made walking too risky, joining a gym can be a good option. Before starting an exercise program, visit with a fitness director and speak with your healthcare provider to set goals, consider challenges and determine appropriate activities given your specific circumstances. Modified activities may be necessary depending on an arthritis diagnosis, for example. Start slow and then increase workout time and intensity according to how your body feels as you adjust to your new routine.
Chores and errands do not stop when the weather turns cold. While scattering salt to de-ice is no big deal, shoveling snow can be truly daunting. If paying someone is not an option, choose a sturdy, non-plastic shovel with a soft grip that is the correct length for your height. Shoveling small amounts in multiple shifts can also help so snow does not pile up too much and to avoid fatiguing yourself beyond what you can handle. Remember: push, don’t lift, and use your legs to protect your back.
Use your resources. As with all exercise and activity, patients should check with their healthcare provider prior to starting. Arthritis patients can also seek information and support from CreakyJoints, the go-to source for more than 100,000 arthritis patients and their families world-wide who are seeking education, support, advocacy and patient-centered research.
By: W. Benjamin Nowell, PhD, Director of Patient-Centered Research, CreakyJoints
Managing Arthritis in Winter Managing Arthritis in Winter Managing Arthritis in Winter Managing Arthritis in Winter
As a co-owner of Senior.com, Kimberly Johnson is passionate about providing Seniors with the resources and products to live well. Kimberly is a seasoned caregiver to her family and breast cancer survivor. Her father battled ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, for 13 months before passing. Today Kimberly lives in Southern California near her 102 year old grandmother, widowed mother, a mentally disabled sister and second sister who is also a breast cancer survivor. She is happily married to her husband of 22 years and they have 3 children.View All Articles