How to treat arthritis pain at home

Do you need a thermometer to let you know when the temperatures dip outside? Or do your joints painfully serve as your weather prognosticator? Unfortunately, for many who suffer from arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, cold weather can wreak havoc on already vulnerable parts of your body. In this article, we’ll explain why you may have joint aches during the brisk winter months and how you can minimize joint pain – even when you’re dealing with near-Arctic temperatures outside.

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Why Do I Ache? Reasons for Joint Pain

Barometric pressure drops in the winter. Researchers believe that when this happens, inflamed areas of our bodies (knees, hips, hands, elbows, and shoulders) swell. Swelling can irritate nerves, which results in increased pain.

Also, our body naturally wants to keep us warm. When cold weather strikes, some blood flow is rerouted from our limbs to important organs, such as our heart and lungs. This takes warmth away from our joints and can cause discomfort.

How Can I Reduce Joint Pain?

Winter should be fun for everyone, but not if you’re constantly hurting. The following tips might help make winter a little more tolerable (and enjoyable):

  • Eat a balanced diet. Shedding some extra pounds is a good idea for several reasons, but specifically, it can take stress off your joints.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration reduces flexibility, which can increase the chance of injury.
  • Supplement with vitamin D or fish oil. You naturally get less vitamin D in the winter and being deficient might make your joints hurt more. Fish oil is rich in omega 3s, which help decrease inflammation.
  • Stay active (indoors). Low impact activities like riding a stationary bike can increase blood flow and reduce joint stiffness.
  • Stretch regularly. Stretching helps maintain your mobility.
  • Use heat. Warm water can help soothe your joints, so take a dip in a heated pool or draw a hot bath. You can also use a heating pad on troubled areas, but no more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Cover up. If your knees ache, try keeping them warm with a sleeve or wrap. Wear gloves to protect your hands.
  • Take NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, can reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Fight cold with cold. Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling.
  • Get a massage. Relax the muscles around your joints.
  • Be safe. Cold weather yields icy surfaces. Protect your joints from further damage from falls by wearing sturdy shoes and walking carefully.

If you have persistent joint pain that won’t subside after taking over-the-counter medications, contact your family physician. You may need to see a rheumatologist or orthopaedic specialist.

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, UPMC treats a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. Whether you have bone, muscle, or joint pain, we provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. As leaders in research and clinical trials with cutting-edge tools and techniques, UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside appears on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top hospitals in the country for orthopaedics.