There’s a lot to love about winter; breathing crisp air, sipping hot chocolates and rugging up in thick coats and scarves. But stiff and sore joints can be a distinct down side to the cooler months; and there are plenty of people with arthritis who believe cold weather makes their condition worse.
In fact, many sufferers swear blind they can even predict a drop in temperature simply by the increase in swelling and pain in their joints.
But is there any truth to this notion that stiff and sore joints flare up when temperatures fall? And if so, what’s causing it?
While it’s a topic that’s been explored in a large number of scientific studies, the results have been mixed. Some studies suggest a link while others do not.
Bodily changes triggered by cooler weather have the side effect of amplifying pain signals from joints.
Many arthritis sufferers have pain that persists, despite having joints that are not extensively damaged. One proven reason for this is that their nervous system is essentially “misbehaving”; pain signals travelling along nerves from their joint are amplified in the brain by signals carried on separate nerves called sympathetic nerves.
These sympathetic nerves are part of the body’s system for maintaining its internal functioning without us having to think about it. When it’s cold, these nerves constrict blood vessels in the limbs, to minimise heat loss and help keep warm the core of the body, where vital organs are.
But the increased activation of these nerves around joints in response to cold weather might also lead to an increase in the pain a person feels.
Just get moving
But before you sell up and move to warmer climates, consider this: there’s no denying a number of other things happen when the weather turns cool. A winter drop in mood is common for many people and low mood is known to be linked to higher levels of perceived pain.
Shorter days and cool temperatures can also make us less inclined to be active, and immobility can also make arthritis pain worse. (Among other things, it reduces the flow of nutrients and oxygen to joints.)
Focusing on overcoming obstacles that stop you exercising in winter rather than just blaming the weather could be a more helpful approach, he suggests. Getting active can also help overcome low mood.
From a practical perspective, however, it might be best to focus on what you can control. So being a bit creative about how you maintain your activity levels in winter is really good advice.
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