How to weather aches and pains: managing arthritis during the winter months

The idea that the change in temperature can have an effect on people with long-term arthritis issues – and its subsequent side-effects, such as joints supposedly aching before a storm and exacerbated symptoms when the barometer falls – have frequently been dismissed as old wives tales by the scientific community, with numerous studies devoted to the subject coming up short with a solution.

But a recent study indicates that there could be something in it after all, which could lead to a weather change in the way we treat the problem.

A study conducted in Holland in 2014 was one of the first to indicate that there may be a link between the weather and increased pain in arthritis sufferers. After tracking the pain levels of osteoarthritis patients over two years, they went through the daily weather records of that period – and discovered that pain and stiffness levels tended to rise slightly (my emphasis) when humidity and pressure level rose.

Although the Dutch researchers went to great pains to hedge their bets, claiming the changes were too small to be considered ‘clinically relevant’, it was a very rare concession to what certain sufferers had been claiming all along.

A storm in a kneecap?

Another European study conducted recently to evaluate the connection between joint pain and temperature and barometric pressure (which occurs before and after a storm) has backed the Dutch claims up, to an extent: it tentatively suggested that hypersensitive stretch receptors in the affected ligaments could respond to a change in atmospheric pressure.

Of course, the bad weather-increased arthritis connection could simply be down to the power of suggestion: if you’re conditioned to believe that you’re about to feel something due to something beyond your control, you’re more inclined to become oversensitive about the part of the body you expect to become afflicted.

And it’s a fact of life that when winter approaches, a lot of people become less active and more lax in their diets, which can often be the real culprit for an increase in joint pain. So here’s a checklist of things you can do to keep yourself as pain-free as possible over the winter season:

Keep warm: Layers are your best friend in winter, as you can easily and smoothly regulate your own body temperature without veering from one extreme to another.

Keep hydrating: According to recent studies, even mild dehydration can lead to an increase in pain sensitivity. Don’t skip the fluids.

Keep up the diet: While we tend to hanker for comfort foods at this time of year, it’s a solid fact that an improved diet and the subsequent weight loss leads to a significant improvement in pain management for arthritis sufferers.

Get walking: Although the park isn’t as welcoming at this time of year as it is in the other seasons (and can be dangerous, due to frost, snow and ice), it still pays to be active.

Take vitamin D supplements: In times of decreased sunlight, you could be falling short of an element that can keep osteoarthritis at bay.

In short, you can’t change the weather, but you can change the way you deal with it.