Cold season and joint pain

By keeping fit and active, you are far less likely to have a slip or a trip, keeping you healthy and also reducing your risk of injury through the cold wet months.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

We are entering the cold Kenyan ‘winter’. The temperatures are beginning to drop. We see many patients every week and one of the common questions we hear at this time of year is ‘why does the cold weather make my pain worse?’ Many patients feel that the cold weather makes their joint and muscle pain worse, particularly in the knees, hips and lower back.

The body has very efficient insulation. Our skin and subcutaneous fat layer protect the tissues and organs of the body from temperature changes. The insulation is so effective that the inner core temperature of our bodies only varies by a very small amount, even with quite extreme external temperatures. This is to protect the body’s cells, which can only function and survive within a relatively narrow temperature range.

So, what is it about colder weather that might make our pains worse?

First, cold weather makes people less active. We know that during the hot months, people generally become far more active. Lighter evenings and lighter mornings mean that people are much more likely to go out and exercise. We spend much more time outside and therefore everyone’s activity level tends to be higher.

We know that exercise can be very good for joint pain, and this may be a significant contributing factor to people’s perception of their symptoms being better in the hot months and worse in the cold months.

Secondly, mood is a factor. We know that the weather and the level of daylight can have a significant impact on our mood. In most extreme cases, people can suffer seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which means that they suffer from depression during the cold months.

However, even without this, many people feel happier and more optimistic during the summer and they feel generally sadder and less optimistic during the winter months. We know that mood can have a significant impact on pain, and therefore this could be another contributing factor to people’s symptoms.

Thirdly, we can't discount extreme weather, such as wet and snow. If our joints are painful then we can be much more susceptible to pain caused by small slips and skids as we walk along the pavement. Wet weather and snow can obviously make walking outside more treacherous, both on the hard ground and on softer ground. Again, this could be a possible contributing factor.

So, what steps can we make to help? Stay active during the colder months and keep your spirits high and feeling positive. Consider indoor activities such as dancing, sports clubs, indoor tennis, indoor cricket and indoor football, swimming, or simply going to the gym or a Pilates class.

Wrap up dry and warm. Advances in fabric technologies mean that nowadays many sports can be performed all year round, for instance running and cycling, without fear of getting cold or wet.

Plan ahead. It’s often easy to opt for staying in the warm when it’s dark, wet and cold outside, so make sure you fill your calendar with lots of activities, indoors or outdoor, to keep you active. Arranging to exercise with friends makes you more likely to stick to your plans.

By keeping fit and active, you are far less likely to have a slip or a trip, keeping you healthy and also reducing your risk of injury through the cold wet months.

Dr Kingori is a physical Therapist at Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Health Centre

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