Waking up on a chilly winter morning seems to aggravate chronic joint pain associated with arthritis. Barometric pressure, the pressure of the earth’s atmosphere around us, rises in cold temperatures. This increased pressure can amplify chronic inflammation or arthritis by preventing tissues from expanding, which leads to tight or stiff muscles and adds more pressure on our joints.
Here are some tips for staying active, strong, and safe through colder winter months.
- Take extra time to stretch
The cold may make it harder to warm up muscles to get moving. Spending a few extra minutes stretching can help alleviate stiffness that can lead to muscle sprains and strains.
- Perform balance exercises regularly
Just 10 minutes of balance exercises a day can improve muscle strength and stability, and help maintain balance in icy conditions.
- Warm up before shoveling!
Shoveling snow without warming up can cause the rotator cuff to be overworked quickly and to become inflamed. Four small muscles comprise the rotator cuff in the shoulder, which—along with their tendons—take the brunt of the force of repetitive activities like snow shoveling. Before shoveling, take some time to stretch and exercise the shoulders so rotator cuff muscles and tendons are ready to work.
- Try the treadmill
Treadmill running can be a great alternative to outdoor training in the freezing winter months, but overuse injuries are common when transitioning to indoor running programs. It is common for outdoor runners to feel they can run faster and for more miles on a treadmill after a season of outdoor running. Use caution and ramp up your miles slowly on a treadmill. And just as with running outdoors, remember to properly warm up and stretch before hopping on the treadmill.
- Dress in layers
Keep most of your body covered and protected from exposure during outdoor activities in cold weather, including wearing a hat, gloves, and a balaclava or facemask in extreme cold. Wear synthetic, sweat-wicking clothing as your innermost layer, avoiding cotton underwear or socks. Lycra or polypropylene running tights are optimal for the waist down. A wind-resistant, breathable, and waterproof material such as Gore-Tex® is an ideal outermost layer for rainy or snowy conditions. A fleece liner or long-sleeve shirt is a good option for a middle layer, if needed.
Written by Elizabeth Matzkin, MD
Surgical Director, Women’s Sports Medicine Program