Weather changes generally cause a number of changes in our health to an extent that we have actually labelled certain disorders as ‘seasonal illnesses’. A healthy lifestyle generally helps to ward of these disorders and reduce their intensity.
Winter is characterized by a drop in the temperature. It can lead to rain, hail and snowfall.
Although the cold weather provides a relief to people who live in the warmer areas, it can be a menace for those who are suffering from arthritis.
People who suffer from this disease believe that the winter season intensifies it further. Many researchers have looked into this matter but no one has been able to find a single reason for this yet. Nonetheless, a number of studies suggest various things which may trigger it.
What is arthritis?
The word arthritis comes from two words – “arthron”, which means joint and “-itis”, which means inflammation. Inflammation or swelling of joints is increasing among people nowadays. It is commonly seen in people belonging to the older age group. Also, women are at a higher risk of developing this disease than men.
Inflammation or swelling of joints is increasing among people nowadays. It is commonly seen in people belonging to the older age group. Also, women are at a higher risk of developing this disease than men.
The symptoms of arthritis include chronic pain, tenderness, stiffness, redness and swelling of the joints. People with arthritis may feel tired and weak at all times and may find it hard to move their muscles.
It can occur in any joint of the body, the most common ones being the shoulder, hip, spine and knee joints.
There can be several types of arthritis. The most frequently occurring ones are-
Osteoarthritis –It mainly affects the joints in the limbs. It is caused by continuous degeneration of tissues such as cartilage and synovial fluid present between the two bones making up a joint. Because of this, the bones swell up and people feel pain during the movement of the joint. It can also occur due to some injury or accident.
Rheumatoid arthritis –In this type of arthritis, the immune system of the body starts to attack and kill its own cells. Inflammation of the synovium, which is a tissue present in between the joints in order to provide easy flexibility and movement of the body, is one of the main symptoms of this disease. This further causes erosion of bones.
Gout –Gout is a type of arthritis which occurs when crystals of uric acid get deposited in between the joints. This disease may spread from one joint to other parts of the body. This leads to the person being unable to even move. It is very painful.
Psoriatic arthritis –This can be caused in people who suffer from psoriasis, a skin disease in which there are dry, scaly and red patches on the skin due to an overactive immune system.
The treatment of arthritis includes taking oral and topical medicines, weight loss, light exercise and a healthy diet. Joint replacement surgery may be required in severe cases.
Joint replacement surgery may be required in severe cases.
How does cold weather affect arthritis?
People who suffer from arthritis tend to feel more pain during the cold weather as compared to warmer climatic conditions. The symptoms of arthritis become worse during the winter season. They experience less body ache on days which are dry and warm. This happens because of sensitivity to the weather.
Although the exact reason for this is not known, several studies were conducted which examine why this happens and if winters are really related to arthritis or not.
1) Humidity changes may affect arthritis symptoms
One study observed that humidity or the moisture present in the air, whether accompanied by high or low temperature, leads to damaging of the aching joints. Even though it was conducted on animal model, it provides sufficient information on the destruction of cartilage and bone cells during the cold weather.
Another study conducted on people who were suffering from osteoarthritis found that humidity along with a cold weather causes sudden hike in the joint pain.
Children are also at a risk of developing arthritis. The most common type is known as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The expression of this disease such as pain in the joints may increase due to sudden changes in the temperature and weather.
A cold weather negatively influences these symptoms.
2) Cold weather may trigger pain sensitivity
A study reported that people with osteoarthritis, especially the ones belonging to older age groups, who are sensitive to the changes in the weather experience more pain when the temperature drops.
The winter season has been found to be linked with increasing pain and tenderness in the body joints. It also increases the flow of blood. When this happens, more blood collects into the affected joint and causes redness and swelling.
It also increases the sensitivity to pain by stimulating the nerves in the area.
3) Change in atmospheric pressure may worsen symptoms of arthritis
Observations made on the patients with rheumatoid arthritis suggested that atmospheric pressure is associated with joint pain.
Similar results were found among people with osteoarthritis in the hip joint. Humidity also contributed to the symptoms along with the air pressure.
Also known as barometric pressure, atmospheric pressure is the force exerted by the weight of the air at a particular unit of area. When the temperature drops during the cold weather, the atmospheric pressure also decreases.
The atmosphere continuously applies pressure on our body. This high pressure allows the tissues present in the body to remain compressed.
Due to a decrease in the barometric pressure during the winter season, these tissues of the body expand in size. This expansion exerts pressure on the nerves present in that area, which is a joint in this case. Swelling of the tissues and an increased feeling of pain because of the constriction of nerves is observed.
Applying pressure to the affected joints externally can help in reducing pain and provide relief by controlling the inflammation caused due to arthritis. Also, high atmospheric pressure which is related to high temperatures and warmer conditions help in diminishing the swelling in joints as well.
Sudden changes in the weather may also cause pain to flare up.
4) Reduced physical activity in winter may aggravate arthritis
The workout routine of a person matters a lot. In a majority of cases, people who are highly active during the warmer days, that is, summer decrease their physical activity by a significant amount in winters.
This may also happen because of the shorter length of the day during the winter season. As soon as the cold weather arrives, it becomes really hard for everybody to get up from the warm bed and move out of the house to get some exercise.
People suffering from arthritis generally engage themselves in lesser outdoor physical activity than those who do not have this disease. They find their body to become stiff and the joints hurt when moved during winter.
This can be prevented to an extent by exercising the joints on a daily basis. People need not go outside for this. Even working out for a short period of time inside the house would do wonders for their health.
However few researchers feel cold weather does not affect arthritis.
However, a study contradicted this and suggested that weather does not have anything to do with the pain caused due to osteoarthritis. It stated that none of the factors related to weather including the temperature, atmospheric pressure and humidity are linked with the expression of arthritis.
Every person reacts in a different way to the weather conditions. It is not necessary that everyone feels an increase in the pain in joints when the temperature drops. There are many people who do not feel any changes in their symptoms of arthritis due to the change of seasons.
The effect of pressure on the tissues of the body can be proved by considering the case of divers. They tend to experience pain in the joints along with other musculoskeletal problems due to staying inside large depths of water for a long period of time. This happens because water exerts much more pressure on the body than air.
Body conserves heat during winter. In order to do this, it sends the majority of blood supply to the heart, lungs and other important organs. This causes constriction of the flow of blood at the extreme ends of the body. This makes the joints cold which increases the pain and tenderness.
Even the heat lost from the body, mainly the limbs, during the winter season adds to the worsening of the symptoms of arthritis.
The monsoon and winter seasons affect the mood of people. This means that they may not feel like working out during this weather. It causes the joints to become hard and decrease flexibility.
Does moving to a warmer climate benefit in arthritis?
Warmer climate conditions can help to improve the symptoms or pain in people suffering from arthritis.
Living in a place with warm climate has been found to increase the level of physical activity among adults with arthritis along with the functioning of the body. It also decreases the disability of joints as well.
Since people living in areas with a hot climate have been seen to suffer from arthritis, this cannot be considered a permanent treatment method. But even then it does provide some relief.
What could be done to provide relief from pain?
A couple of measures can be taken to reduce pain and stiffness in arthritis caused by cold weather.
1. Wearing warmer clothes for better insulation of joints
The best way to reduce pain during the cold weather is to cover the joints properly with warm clothes. Gloves, scarves, socks, jacket and other winter clothes can be worn. This prevents the extremities of the body from losing heat.
Sometimes tight clothing is a good way to reduce the inflammation and provide relief from the body ache. These include some specially designed clothes for arthritis like therapy gloves.
However, this technique is not always helpful and sometimes may even lead to worsening of the disease.
2. Engage in regular physical activity
Physical activity should not be ignored. Light exercise is crucial in order to maintain a good health and prevent the body from becoming stiff. Simple indoor exercises such as stretching, walking and yoga are enough for patients of arthritis.
Regular massage of the affected area helps to improve the blood flow and makes the immune system stronger and better during the winter season.
3. Consume a nutrient rich diet
A healthy diet also plays a very important role in the treatment of this disease. Intake of balanced nutrition ensures a good health and improvement of the symptoms. The essential nutrients required in this case are Calcium and
Vitamin D. Calcium is required to regenerate the bone and cartilage and vitamin absorbs the calcium in the body.
4. Inculcate better lifestyle habits
Proper hydration of the body should also be taken care of. Dehydration of the muscles and other tissues causes irritation.
Losing weight also helps. When less weight falls on the joints, especially in the knee and hip joints, there is a low risk of impairment of the joints.
5. Use heat packs
Arthritis lowers the pain threshold, especially in the cold weather.
This means that people start to feel pain even if the intensity of stimulus is less. To improve this, heat packs need to be applied which increase this threshold of pain and improve the symptoms.
6. Consult a doctor about medications and therapy
One should always consider the advice of a doctor if suffering from arthritis. Different kinds of arthritis require various methods of treatment. Common medications include NSAIDs, analgesics, DMARDs, corticosteroids etc.
So does the cold weather make the disease worse or just affects the symptoms of it?
This article can be concluded by saying that colder conditions do not make arthritis worse. The weather only affects the symptoms such as pain, stiffness and swelling. With proper care, these can be controlled and even cured.
The proper measures need to be taken on time so that the condition does not become damaging to the functioning of the body.