It’s not uncommon for people to complain about sore joints in cold weather, although the “why” of it is still a mystery to experts.
Rhodes recommended wearing an extra layer of clothing, as well as wearing gloves outdoors in the cold weather.
“The hands seem to be the thing that bother people the most,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said the heated pool at the OMHS HealthPark helps, too, because activity generates heat in the joints, and that improves pain and stiffness.
“Our natural defense to cold weather is to protect the core of the body (which) will actually shunt blood from the extremities to the inside of your body,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of blood going to the exterior portion of your limbs because it wants to conserve the heat that you have.
“Unfortunately, that makes it even worse when you are arthritic because now there’s even less blood flow to your hands, legs, arms and shoulders. People need to wrap up really well.”
Last week’s snow was fluffy and measured only a couple of inches, so it wasn’t hard clearing sidewalks and stairs, but if and when the heavier wet snow arrives, shovelers should take care not to overexert themselves.
“You should try not to do too much, particularly people with heart conditions,” Rhodes said. “They’re the most at-risk. It’s a fairly strenuous activity if you’re doing a lot of snow removal with a shovel.
“Go at a measured pace, take breaks, go in and warm up. It’s going to be there for a while, so take your time and get it done. Don’t try to do it all at once.”
Extreme cold has long been associated with conditions such as arthritis and joint pain, affecting hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and hands.
“People with good joints don’t have pain related to weather, but those who have any kind of trauma to their joints or some arthritis, it’s very common to have them tell you it’s worse when the weather changes, or even when the barometric pressure changes,” said Dr. Gayle Rhodes, the director for Owensboro Medical Health System’s WorkHealth division.
Researchers haven’t solved the puzzle of cold weather relating to soreness, but apparently joints contain sensory nerves that respond to changes in atmospheric pressure. It’s believed that cold weather causes the joint lining to constrict, perhaps causing the discomfort.
“That’s been a theory that’s been promoted, but I’m not sure why that causes pain in your joints, or why you’d have a mechanism like that in the joints to detect barometric pressure in a normal person,” Rhodes said.
The solution, however, is easy — keep warm.
“People with sore joints tend to want to set the thermostat up a little bit higher, and that’s prudent,” Rhodes said. “If you set it too low to conserve energy, you’re going to wake up and have sore joints all day long.”
Visit us at All Injury Rehab for more information and to set up an appointment.