A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Tips for treating joint pain in cold weather

Senior couple walking outside in winter

Staying active when the weather gets cold will help keep joint pain at bay.

Most people with arthritis will agree cold weather means aches and pains.

Why is winter so harsh on arthritic joints?

“This question is as old as time,” said Dr. Brady Didion, a Marshfield Clinic family medicine physician.

The answer still isn’t clear, he said, but there are things you can do to ease joint pain.

Scientists search for answers

Research on the effects of cold weather and barometric pressure on joint pain has produced mixed results. Some studies showed a connection, others showed no connection and some were inconclusive.

In short, it’s still not known why so many people report joint pain when the weather changes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a link.

“Experience tells us there are definitely changes in pain and function when the weather changes,” Didion said.

Stay active and fit

“Strengthening and stretching muscles around painful joints is the best way to keep symptoms under control,” Didion said.

That means staying active.

Instead of walking outside in cold temperatures, head indoors to a mall, track or treadmill. Or take a dip in an indoor pool for a good workout without the impact.

Movement also will help you shed extra pounds that add stress to your joints.

Being overweight or obese is a major contributor to joint pain, Didion said. Losing weight will make a difference in how your joints feel the next time cold weather rolls in, even if you don’t see the results this winter.

“The best thing to do is to focus on wellness rather than what you do before winter or a particular supplement you can take,” he said. “Stay active, eat well and be in touch with a caring provider.”

Medication for joint pain relief

Didion recommends non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen to control joint pain when you need immediate relief. Both medicines are available over-the-counter (OTC).

He cautioned against using supplements that claim to relieve joint pain.

“Not everything you see advertised is effective or safe for everybody to take,” Didion said. “Some supplements have side effects like raising blood pressure and making blood thinner than it should be.”

Talk to your doctor before taking a new OTC medication or supplement for joint pain.

If OTC pain relievers don’t ease the pain, your doctor may recommend more aggressive treatments like prescription pain relievers, muscle relaxants, steroid injections or surgery.

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