That hurting joint...

That hurting joint...

With the onset of December, we are gearing up for another round of hazy mornings, cold nights and biting wind. Not everybody likes the chilly season. If you are someone who has arthritic joints, you must have experienced a spike in discomfort as the mercury levels start falling. In fact, many people with orthopaedic conditions dread the onset of winters, as this makes their joints more painful, inflexible and creaky. 

Many people wonder whether cold temperatures have a direct link with increase in pain or if cold winds have a negative impact on the health of the joints. However, it is not the temperature per se, but a complex interplay of several factors that makes winters more difficult for people with orthopaedic joints like arthritic knees, shoulders or hips.

Let’s first understand why joints seem more uneasy in the winters.

Our pain threshold decreases
To be fair, some of the increase in pain and discomfort is not actual increase in pain, but an increase in sensation. You must have noticed how even a minor injury like a cut or bruise hurts so much more in the winter than in summer. Yes! Our threshold for pain decreases in winter, as our nerve endings become more sensitive in colder temperatures. Because of this, any degree of pain will feel heightened in this season.

Poor blood circulation
In winters, the body prefers to keep warmer blood closer to the heart and this affects the blood circulation to the joints. Consequently, our joints become stiff and painful.  It is especially bad for those who have had orthopaedic injuries, such as a fracture, sprain, surgeries like joint replacements or bone fusions in the past.

Physical activity goes down
Because of extreme cold and chilly winds, most elderly folks prefer to stay indoors and thus, the levels of activity tend to go down drastically in winters. The daily walking or exercise schedule goes haywire because it is uncomfortable to step out in the freezing weather. We also tend to get  lazy and prefer the comfort of the blanket over the necessary but difficult physical exertion. When it comes to arthritic joints, regular movement becomes all the more necessary to prevent rigidity in the joints. 

Changing pressures
Barometric air pressure of the atmosphere changes when weather conditions shift, which means it may rise or fall, depending on the weather. This shift may cause discomfort or inflammation of the joints. As the joints learn to adapt to the changing weather conditions, you may experience some discomfort.

In order to reduce the discomfort during the season, here are some tips you should start following before the winter reaches its peak:

Exercise: Do not forego your daily exercise in winter. Exercising helps increase blood circulation and enables warm blood reach all peripheral areas of the body, including joints.

Healthy blood circulation will keep the joints flexible, warm and prevent pain. Regular exercise also helps keep the muscles strong and healthy, which is key to holding the arthritic joints together for a long time.

Proper diet: Eat a well-balanced diet comprising fruits, vegetables, pulses, cereals and dairy products to ensure the overall health and wellbeing of the joints and muscles. Patients with knee pain need a good dose of Vitamins D, C and K to keep the bones and cartilage well nourished. A deficiency of vitamins can manifest itself in the form of joint pain or inflammation.

Oranges, cabbage, carrots, spinach and tomatoes are a must. Spend time under the sun to allow sufficient production of Vitamin D.

Water: If you feel less thirsty in winter, it doesn’t mean you need less water. The cartilage between the joints is a smooth, soft tissue responsible for reducing friction between bone edges and for its surface to remain smooth, it has to be hydrated and full of fluid.

Get your joints examined: Never leave your arthritic joints unexamined. Make sure an orthopaedic specialist has seen them through an X-ray to know the extent of damage. If needed, consider a joint replacement for long-term mobility.

Wear knee supports: Knee supports help support the weak joint. Your orthopaedic specialist will recommend good knee supporting braces that can be worn to provide more stability to the joint. In case the pain is intense, knee braces also offer relief.

Physiotherapy: It is recommended for those suffering from osteoarthritis, Physiotherapy helps keep the muscles and leg nerves strong and the joints flexible. In winter, when joint stiffness increases, physiotherapy and the heat  generated ensure greater mobility and lesser pain.

(The author is senior consultant, orthopaedics & joint replacement surgeon, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi)

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