Advice from Kansas City Orthopedic Doctors and Physical Therapists
Injured or damaged joints seem to know when the weather changes. People living with chronic joint disorders or those who have experienced a recent injury or surgery to their joint understand this better than anyone.
There are some widely-accepted causes of joint pain in cold weather:
- Inactivity: You’re less active when it’s cold outdoors and tend to stay home more.
- Changes in barometric pressure: Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere around us. In winter or periods of cold weather, the pressure drops, which can expand tissues in your joints and cause pain.
- Increased nerve sensitivity: Nerve endings affected by scarring, inflammation, or adhesions are hypersensitive to changes in temperature.
- Joint fluid thickens in the cold: Your synovial fluid, the shock absorber in your joint, can flow less freely in the cold, which makes you feel stiff.
- Simultaneous cold and humidity: Bone and cartilage cells suffer during these weather conditions.
When cold weather hits, be prepared to alleviate your joint pain using these tried-and-true tips from our orthopedic doctors and physical therapists in our Kansas City area clinic, Mid-America Orthopedics.
Exercise and Stretch to Fix Joint Pain
If inactivity is one of the causes of winter joint pain, then it makes sense that the solution to it is to perform a little exercise. Less activity leads to less range of joint motion and joint pain, so get moving!
Maybe you’ve stopped exercising because your normal routine takes you outdoors. In that case, it’s time to get back in the habit by finding a new activity you can do indoors. Exercise equipment like treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, and stationary bikes are perfect for aerobic exercise when it’s too cold to hit the sidewalks and trails. You also can find lots of free workouts on YouTube or other websites.
Stretching is just as important as aerobic exercise. As you age, your joints naturally get more stiff, but especially those that you already have trouble with. Stretching can help keep your joints loose and flexible. Even if you’re unable to do much exercise thanks to knee pain or hip pain, chair yoga or chair tai chi are both gentle options for maintaining your mobility.
Dress in Layers to Protect Your Joints and Keep Them Warm
Letting your core body temperature drop is a no-no if you want to prevent winter joint pain. Warm joints, muscles, and ligaments stay loose and are less likely to become achy and tender when the temperature drops.
Wear layers so you can remove some if you feel too warm indoors, such as while you’re shopping for groceries. For example, gloves or mittens can keep your hand joints cozy and out of the cold; buy pairs that cover your wrist to help defeat winter wrist pain. Knit wrist gauntlets or arm warmers serve the same purpose, but keep your fingers free and don’t impede your sense of touch.
Leg warmers work well as an extra layer over your knees and ankles if you have to venture outdoors; they’re easy to remove, too. Warm, lined boots also do wonders for your ankles and feet. In extreme temperatures, wear a thermal layer, like long johns, under your clothes to avoid cold exposure.
Manage Joint Pain with OTC Medications and Skin Rubs
If your doctor says it’s OK for you to do so, over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help ease your joint pain. Take these medicines in moderation; extensive use can cause long-term effects or problems in people with a history of kidney or stomach issues, or for people who take prescription blood thinners.
Over-the-counter creams, gels, and rubs, which you apply directly to your joints, can soothe joint pain. You can opt for products with more natural ingredients, like arnica, capsaicin, or menthol, or more “medicinal” ones. However, be prepared for the scent of these products, which can be overwhelming at first. You might only choose to use these when you’re at home and away from other people who may be sensitive to strong aromas.
Try a few to see which works best for you, or call your doctor’s nurse for suggestions if you need input, or talk to your pharmacist. Always read the instructions before applying these products to your skin.
Apply Heat Responsibly
Warmth or moist heat relieves achy or stiff joints quickly. It’s so effective, many people leave their heat pack or heating pad on for too long and end up with burns.
However, applying heat to alleviate joint pain is still a good idea, as long as you aren’t leaving it there for more than 20 minutes (10 minutes if you have damaged nerves or neuropathies in the area). Never fall asleep on a heating pad, nor apply one directly to bare skin.
If you don’t have a heating pad, you can microwave a crew sock full of uncooked rice at 30-second increments and apply it to your painful joints. A warm bath also works well; soak for about 20 minutes. You can add epsom salts to your bath, which can help ease joint pain.
For the Top Orthopedic Care in the Kansas City Area, See us in Leawood, Garnett, or Paola, Kansas
When you’re in need of orthopedic care in Kansas City after an injury, or if you need treatment to regain mobility, visit a specialist physician at one of our three conveniently located medical practices. At Mid-America Orthopedics, you’ll find all the patient-centered orthopedic care you need under one roof, including physical therapists and surgery consultations.
Our medical providers achieve the best clinical outcomes because of our deep understanding of the musculoskeletal system and joint repair. Our entire team, even our office staff, is committed to helping you return to your daily activities as quickly as possible.
Contact us to make an appointment with one of our specially-trained orthopedic doctors and learn how we can help you get stronger, regain your range of motion, and live with less joint pain.