When it’s cold and dreary outside, it can be hard to motivate yourself to hit the gym, especially if you find that you are experiencing more joint stiffness and soreness than usual. So board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. W. Parker Abblitt answered some common questions about joint pain in winter and explained why it is important to shake off the chill with exercise.
Why do patients experience more joint pain and stiffness during cold weather?
A lot of life has motion, and motion is life. But often when the temperature drops, folks are more bundled up on the couch and aren’t moving around quite as much as usual. Synovial fluid in the joints can thicken, and that can lead to stiffness.
When the temperature drops, so does barometric pressure. This fluctuating pressure can cause tissues, muscles and tendons to swell and hurt. Patients with conditions like arthritis also sometimes notice weather changes and increased pressure because of pressure receptors in their joints.
What can happen if a patient is very sedentary, doesn’t do anything to help their joint stiffness, and their joint pain worsens?
Folks who are less active and more sedentary often experience more pain. That’s secondary to some of the stiffness that sets in if they don’t move their joints enough.
Sometimes with arthritis, joints can contract to the point where a patient might not regain their range of motion. Maintaining motion is really important. Folks can also use over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or ibuprofen to help with some of the swelling and aches that they develop.
Do you have any other advice for helping patients who have stiff joints?
The most helpful options for joint pain and stiffness are over-the-counter medicines and staying as active as you can with low impact exercise or activity like walking or riding a stationary bike.
New topical medicines that are available over the counter can help as well. Using heat is beneficial if you’re trying to loosen up the joints, and if things are a little achy, ice can help take away some of that pain. But mostly I encourage folks to stay active as best they can, even in cold weather. Always try to stay mobile.
Do you have any tips for staying active when it’s cold out?
One of the easiest ways to get motivated to move when you don’t want to leave home is to find a fun activity, like pickleball or Zumba for example. When you’re going to do something enjoyable, especially if it has a social component, you’ll look forward to it instead of feeling like you’re just slogging to the gym to exercise.
If you prefer to exercise outside, try to do so during daylight hours. It’s safer since you’re more visible, it’s warmer outside during the day, and it’s good for your bones if you absorb some vitamin D from the sunlight.
If you know you won’t leave home when it’s cold out, you can put together an exercise routine using inexpensive items like a stability ball and resistance bands. Climbing your stairs, doing calisthenics using your body weight, or following an online workout on YouTube are all free ways to get in exercise indoors.
If you have questions about joint or muscle pain or would like to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, book online or call (512) 439-1000.
About Dr. W. Parker Abblitt
Dr. Abblitt is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with fellowship training in total joint replacement. Dr. Abblitt specializes in minimally invasive hip and knee replacement surgery and revision joint reconstructions. He sees patients at our Northwest Austin and Cedar Park locations.