Very often patients suggest that their joint aches and pains are made worse by the cold and damp weather.  It’s been said anecdotally to me all too often not to give some credence to this view.  However there remains no firm scientific evidence that the cold and damp weather has a detrimental affect on osteoarthritis. 

Most researchers in the field of rheumatology and arthritis explain this common complaint in terms of patients’ perceptions of their pain in the cold winter months compared to the milder summer months.  They believe that patient’s perceptions of their pain in winter is greater than that during the summer leading to a greater reporting of pain in winter and a lesser reporting of generally the same pain during the summer.

Other researchers suggest that the lower winter temperatures, lead to a decrease in joint flexibility and a subsequent increase in joint stiffness and associated pain.  This second theory would perhaps fit better with most patients’ experiences.

Exercise

Exercise and remaining active throughout the winter are essential to the management of osteoarthritis of the knee and hip and indeed the smaller joints of the hand.  Aerobic exercise and some light resistance training have been shown to be most effective.  Occasionally it’s recommended to favour cycling and swimming as opposed to weight bearing activities such as jogging, where the knees are badly affected.

In general with arthritis it’s recommended that patients strike a balance between appropriate rest and exercise.  A decision to rest continuously, is detrimental to the overall condition of the muscles and soft tissues supporting your joints.  Similarly exercising excessively should be discouraged as this will result in increased joint pain due to the impact of the activity.  It’s difficult to give specific guidelines with respect to exercise and rest since everybody is different and responds differently.  This is unique to each patient but suffice to say that too much rest is not the answer nor is excessive exercise.  Find the balance that works for you and stick with it to keep the joints moving this winter!