There is no question that New England winters, and Connecticut’s holiday season in particular, can be brutally cold. The average low temperature during our winters is well below the freezing point, hovering around 2 degrees Fahrenheit. While all this cold can make for some picturesque snowscapes, it also brings many hassles, including achy and painful joints.
Is joint pain due to freezing weather a real occurrence, or is it all in your head? We’ll look at why your joints may hurt more in the cold, what you can do about joint pain and when to see your primary care physician.
Why Do My Joints Hurt When It’s Cold?
People have long associated joint pain with weather changes. Some even claim to be able to predict rain or thunderstorms when a “trick” knee or elbow begins to ache. While there is no objective evidence that humidity levels affect joint pain, there are several theories as to why your joints may hurt more in the cold.
The first theory has to do with atmospheric pressure. Cold temperatures bring lower atmospheric pressure than warm temperatures. As pressure lessens, this change may allow tissue in your joints to expand, leading to pain. Other experts point out that you are less likely to engage in outdoor exercise, yard work, or gardening in the winter than during the other months. Winter inactivity can result in stiff and achy joints.
How Can I Stop Joint Pain in Winter?
There are several ways you can relieve joint pain during cold weather. Perhaps the best method is to try to stay active. You don’t have to brave a blizzard. Instead, exercise indoors. Staying active is not only great for your cardiovascular health, but the practice will keep your joints limber as well.
The Mayo Clinic has further recommendations for dealing with joint pain. The advice includes trying over-the-counter pain-relieving anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Always follow the directions on the package and ask your primary care physician if you have any questions.
You can also try applying cold and heat to your joint. These efforts will help to reduce inflammation. Use an icepack or even a pack of frozen vegetables to ice your painful joint for 15-20 minutes. You can then use a heating pad or take a warm bath. Some patients also find relief with liniments and creams designed to combat joint pain.
When Should I See the Doctor?
Joint pain in cold weather is nothing unusual, especially in older individuals. Most cases can be controlled using the techniques above. However, if your joint pain is severe or unrelenting, you need to schedule a visit with your primary care doctor. Here are other indications that it’s time to visit your doctor:
- If your joint appears deformed or misshapen, or if your pain began after an injury, as you may have a tear or other trauma in your joint.
- If your joint looks swollen, red, or the skin around your joint feels warm, as these symptoms could indicate the presence of gout or arthritis.
Arthritis is a widespread problem, and the CDC states that one-quarter of all adults with arthritis experience severe joint pain. There are several types of arthritis, and two of the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks the cells that make up your joints. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that pads your joints wears away, allowing your bones to grind against each other.
Both these types of arthritis have similar symptoms, namely joint pain and stiffness. There are medications available to address the pain from arthritis, and your doctor can recommend other treatments specific to your arthritis type. For example, drugs to suppress the immune system can be helpful for some rheumatoid arthritis cases, and joint replacement surgery may be appropriate for severe osteoarthritis.
However, to get started on effective treatment, you need a diagnosis from your doctor. Don’t hesitate to contact your family doctor or internal medicine provider if you’re not able to control your winter joint pain, or if you experience the symptoms discussed above.