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Why Do Joints Hurt More in Winters

Joints are the areas in our body where bones meet and come together. Babies are born with about 270 bones and over the course of ageing these reduce to approximately 206 by the time of adulthood; this makes it difficult to calculate how many joints a human body really has. This makes the study of joint pain harder still. There are three categories of joints based on the amount of movement they allow. Synarthroses or immovable joints are formed when two or more bones are attached with no room for manoeuvre for example the plates between the skull. Amphiarthroses joints permit a slight amount of movement, for example the vertebrae. Diarthroses joints allow free movement like the shoulders and knees; it is these joints that seem to be most affected (in some cases) when the weather gets colder. Along with a fall in temperature, often people complain of stiffness and joint pain in winters. Some feel a surge in pain, especially in the knees and some do not. Experts are yet to ascertain what causes some people these aches and pains while others do not complain of any such phenomena. Some theories propound the presence of diseases that directly affect the joints such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis while some experts believe that the body self regulates blood flow in order to meet cold external conditions. The theory goes that when the body feels cold, it preserves heat by reallocating blood to the more inner/central parts of the body like the heart. When blood moves towards centrally located organs, it falls short in the non central areas and this makes blood vessels tighter and narrower. These constricted vessels do not allow much blood to flow in the arms, legs, knee joints and the lack of blood makes them cold and stiff, thereby causing pain and discomfort. These pains and aches, if they surface during winters; can be a sign of developing arthritis. The other theory explains joint pains in relation to a drop in barometric pressure which inflates and expands tendons and muscles leading to a lesser amount of space within the body, this tighter lesser space causes pressure to accumulate on the joints which bear the weight of the body. People react differently to barometric pressure changes but those with arthritis are much more vulnerable. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) causes a downturn in mood during cold and gloomy weather stretches; this may also enhance the experience of pain during winters.

The knees are most prone to experiencing this “winter pain”, followed by the hips and ankles as these are the joints that bear the highest amount of body weight. Runners often complain of winter aches after long runs outside, just about any outdoor physical activity in the winter hurts more. If arthritis is indeed the case, then one needs to understand how it can cause greater joint pain during winters. For instance, osteoarthritis is the most common form or arthritis; entails the shrinkage and wasting away of cartilage that cushions between bones. During winter this cartilage is as it is going to be under more pressure due to lack of blood. This will increase joint aches as the cartilage will tighten.

People who perform repetitive tasks most often complain of joint aches as they wear out joints through repeated exercise and movements. Awkward positioning of the body while performing daily tasks that include bending can also be a cause for developing joint aches. There are a few easy joint pain treatment remedies for countering winter aches before consulting a doctor. Dress in amole layers of clothes in order to prevent the cold from reaching the joints. Exercise will lead to higher muscle and bone strength, make joints sturdy and decrease body weight (which will decrease the pressure on the knees). Applying heating pads or warm water bottles to areas that ache can help in joint pain relief. Stretching and warming up before and after a run or jog can help prevent muscles from tightening, thereby helping the joints. If these measures do not help in reducing joint aches and pains, consult a doctor immediately.

Dr. Aashish Chaudhry
Managing Director & Sr. Consultant
Orthopaedics & Joint Replacement

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