They say the cold gets right into your bones, and many people with joint problems such as osteoarthritis find their symptoms worsen at this time of year. “Cold weather, decreased atmospheric pressure and dry air can make a lot of things hurt more,” says osteopath Dr James Inklebarger.
On top of a heightened perception of joint pain, falls are also more common in winter. Find out how you can ease your aches and protect your joints from damage all season-long.
Aching joints – what’s the cause?
Exercise with care
Frequent exercise is a must if you want to keep your joints supple and pain-free in winter. Light resistance training and low impact workouts that do not put undue strain on the joints are best. Think swimming, treadmill walking – pavements can be treacherous at this time of year – and leisurely paced cycling on the exercise bike.
Pilates and yoga are also excellent for maintaining supple joints. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week if you can. Always warm up before you exercise, especially important during winter, and when you're done, treat yourself to a nice Epsom salt bath to relieve any post-workout aches and pains.
Exercise and diet for arthritis
Stock up on supplements
Certain supplements can help soothe joints and may even protect cartilage from damage. According to Arthritis UK, glucosamine, an amino acid extracted from either crustacean shells or fungi, has been shown to ease joint pain and stiffness.
Learn more about glucosamine
Gopo, which is made from rose hips, may be even more effective. Study after study has found that the supplement consistently reduces joint pain, plus it's high in vitamin C, which is essential for good bone health. As always, before starting any dietary supplement, check with your doctor if it's safe for you to take.
Is your diet affecting your medicines?
Eat more fatty fish
Fond of salmon, mackerel and sardines? These delicious oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which aside from their myriad other benefits, help reduce joint inflammation and ease the pain associated with arthritis.
Oily fish also contain vitamin D3, which plays an important role in bone health. Try to eat at least two to three portions of fatty fish a week if you can, or think about supplementing your diet with fish oil capsules.
Hate salmon? Where to find alternative sources of omega-3
Replenish your calcium reserves
Keep your bones strong this winter by packing your diet with healthy calcium-containing foods. Milk and yoghurt are of course the natural choices, but there are lots of vegetable sources too, from leafy greens to oranges.
If you don't feel your diet is providing you with an adequate supply of calcium – the NHS recommends a daily intake of 700mg – you may want to opt for supplements. Again, as a precaution check with your doctor before you start taking them.
Learn more about how calcium affects our health
What you wear on your feet is doubly important at this time of year. Given the potential for icy pavements, falls are more common, and many arthritis sufferers report worsening symptoms in winter. Ideally, wear flat, supportive, rubber-soled shoes or boots and, if it's particularly frosty out, invest in a pair of snow grips you can attach to the soles for increased traction.
Avoid wearing high heels if you can. Not only do they increase the chance of having a fall, according to Arthritis UK high heels put extra stress on the legs and may up your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Read our guide to preventing falls
Keep your joints warm
Whether you're susceptible to achy joints or not, keeping warm is crucial. When you're feeling cold and shivery, your muscles tense up and stiffen, making them more prone to injury and general discomfort.
Don't forget the thermals and wrap up well in layers to keep your core warm. Quilted down jackets and coats tend to make for the warmest outerwear. Look for the most snug gloves and socks money can buy. If you still find you just can't heat up, splash out on some of those gel heat pads you can wear inside your gloves and pop in your boots.
10 ways to take care of your joints
Limit the comfort eating
'Tis the season for indulging, and while a little of what you fancy won't do you any harm, going overboard and piling on the pounds won't do your joints any favours at all. In fact, the more you weigh, you more stress you put on your joints.
You'll be a lot lighter on your feet and less prone to pain if you maintain a healthy weight. You'll also reduce your risk of osteoarthritis. If your body mass index (BMI) is above 25, make an appointment to see your GP to discuss how you can get your weight down.
The health risks of obesity
Treat your pain naturally
You don't always have to resort to over the counter or prescription medication to soothe those aching joints. Heat for instance is a wonderful joint pain reliever. As well as warm baths, try alleviating your aches with warm compresses and heat pads.
Massage is also very effective. Snap up a foam roller or stick for self-massage, or spoil yourself with a professional massage session. A number of techniques, from traditional Swedish and Thai, to deep tissue sports massage work well.
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