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What’s the connection between cold weather and joint pain?

What’s the connection between cold weather and joint pain?

When you were little, you may have heard your grandma blame her achy joints on a dip in the temperature or even the rain. It may have sounded silly at the time, but it turns out that cool weather and joint pain are connected.

The University Medical Center New Orleans team takes a deep dive into the topic below, including some tips for avoiding joint pain.

Why cool weather causes joint pain

There are multiple reasons why cooler temperatures may lead to more joint pain. The first has to do with the anatomy of the joint itself.

Joints are any place in the body where two or more bones meet, and they’re made up of cartilage, tendons, ligaments and nerves. They also contain a thick liquid known as synovial fluid, which helps to cushion the ends of bones and reduces friction.

While synovial fluid is always thick, it can thicken even further when it’s cold outside. That can cause your joints to stiffen, making it difficult and more painful to move around.

There’s another potential reason why weather conditions can contribute to joint pain. As the weather changes, the atmosphere can experience drops in barometric pressure.

These drops are what cause temperature swings and even rainy weather, but they may also contribute to joint pain as the barometric pressure drops. When air pressure drops, muscles, tendons and bones in the body can all expand, which increases pressure in the joint itself.

Joint pain may also be magnified during cold weather because nerves and blood vessels in the arms and legs constrict when exposed to the cold. When that happens, blood flow is restricted, and the joints stiffen.

There’s one other potential cause of joint pain in the winter. While it sounds counterintuitive, moving your body helps to ease joint pain, so regular exercise is important. When it’s cold outside, many people are less likely to be physically active, which can cause an increase in discomfort.

4 steps to stay joint pain-free this winter

There are many ways you can protect your joints this time of year, which can help reduce joint pain. Start with these basic steps:

  1. Keep yourself warm. The best way to avoid joint pain is to keep your joints (and the rest of your body) from getting cold. Keep the indoors at a comfortable temperature and dress in layers when you head outside.
  2. Be active. Staying active can help you keep your joints lubricated and flexible. Your exercise routine should include a blend of activities, including cardio to get your heart pumping, strength training and movements designed to increase balance. Strength training with weights or your body weight is especially important as it helps build up muscle and bone strength, which takes pressure off the joints.
  3. Get enough sleep. During cooler weather, we have fewer hours of daylight while we’re awake. That may make you want to curl up in bed and stay there a little longer. We’re here to tell you that’s OK! Yes, you read that right. Getting enough quality sleep and meaningful rest is beneficial to your joints, so aim for seven to nine hours each night.
  4. Focus on your diet. It’s not quite a “you are what you eat” scenario, but what you eat does play a key role in reducing joint pain. Explore new recipes, focusing on foods that would be in a Mediterranean diet. The fish, nuts, seeds, fruit, veggies, beans, olive oil and whole grains prioritized in this diet can all help reduce inflammation and pain. Nightshade vegetables, including eggplant, tomatoes and bell peppers, can be especially helpful.

Take heart: Warmer days will be here soon! In the meantime, take good care of your joints.

If your joints seem to be aching more than normal these days, it may be time for a checkup! Schedule a primary care appointment today to get a good look at your joints and overall health.