For seniors with arthritis living in cold climates, January is the cruelest month. So too is February. And March.
That’s because these months are cold, and cold weather is rough on people with inflammatory and non-inflammatory arthritis.
Here’s a look at why that’s the case, and how seniors with arthritis can thrive in winter despite the cold.
Does Cold Weather Affect Arthritis?
To be fair, it’s debatable whether cold weather alone truly worsens joint pain. The research, so far, is inconsistent, and the studies aren’t perfect.
But if we people with arthritis at their word, we know that many experience more joint pain when it’s cold. There’s a dearth of anecdotal evidence, and it’s possible that the scientific research has yet to catch up.
How Cold Weather Affects Arthritis
There are different theories on why cold weather—and other changes in barometric pressure—affects arthritis.
One plausible theory is that cold weather causes muscle and tendon contractions. These contractions can cause pain in areas affected by arthritis, making them less flexible.
Other plausible theories:
- Nerves in bones in people with arthritis are insufficiently protected by cartilage, and these bones are sensitive to barometric pressure.
- Low temperatures thicken synovial fluid—the joints’ shock absorber, making them less able to absorb shock.
- Falls in barometric pressure cause joints to expand.
- In the winter, DNA genes that suppress inflation decrease while ther genes that promote inflammation increase.
According to personal accounts and some research, humidity also increases arthritis pain, meaning cold and wet weather is harder on joints than cold and dry weather.
Life with Arthritis in Cold Cities
Winters can be especially tough for seniors with arthritis living in cities where the winters are exceptionally cold and wet, like Chicago or Ottawa, Canada—one of the coldest capital cities in the world.
In Ottawa, the average temperature in January 2021 was 23°F (-5°C). On other days the temperature can plummet to as low as -4°F (-20°C), not including the wind chill. Back on January 31, 1996, the temperature in Ottawa dropped to 27.85°F (-33.1°C).
In Ottawa, cold weather warnings are common, and people dress to avoid getting frostbite. It’s tough on everyone, except huskies, and it’s especially tough on seniors with arthritis.
But even seniors with arthritis living in Ottawa can enjoy the winter weather. This is especially true for seniors living in innovative modern senior housing communities that offer a full spectrum of amenities, care services, and winter activities.
Winter Tips for Seniors with Arthritis
There are things seniors with arthritis living in freezing cities like Ottawa can do to enjoy the winter without arthritic pain. These include
- Taking vitamin D supplements
- Eating well
- Swimming, yoga, and other exercises that are easy on the joints
- Reducing stress levels
- Wearing compression socks and gloves
- Getting enough sleep
- Layering to overprepare for the cold (it’s better to be too warm than too cold)
- Sleeping under electric blankets
- Taking warm showers during the day
Paraffin baths can be especially helpful for arthritic seniors in winter weather. A paraffin bath is a machine you dip your hands and feet in. The machine melts paraffin wax, which hardens on your skin and possibly soothes joints.
Cold winters can be especially tough on seniors who suffer from joint pain, but there are ways to ease the pain and enjoy the winter.
In addition to the winter tips offered above, taking anti-inflammatory medication is an option. Talk to your doctor if you or someone you know might benefit from doing taking these medications.