The Reason Behind Your Aching Joints

"I can feel the cold in my bones."

You've probably heard someone say it – or even said it yourself. The phrase refers to the pain folks feel when the weather changes.

It's no old wives' tale. Your joints may ache as the weather changes... especially if you have arthritic joints.

Several studies show a connection between arthritis pain and winter weather...

A 2014 study out of Spain showed that rheumatoid arthritis patients had increased levels of pain as the temperature dropped. And a 2007 study from Tufts University showed that both dropping temperature and changes in barometric pressure caused increased pain for patients with osteoarthritis.

If you're suffering from sore joints this season, there are a few things that can help…

First, you should know what type of arthritis you have.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune system disorder. It means that your immune system mistakes the protective barrier around your joint (called the synovium) as a foreign body and sends immune system cells to attack it. That results in swelling, redness, pain… even the breakdown of bone cells. RA can start anytime between the ages of 30 and 60. About 1.5 million Americans have RA.

More prevalent is osteoarthritis (OA). OA affects about 27 million Americans. OA happens when the tissue that cushions the ends of your bones at a joint breaks down. This tissue, cartilage, is essential for proper, pain free movement.

Cartilage breaks down for a number of reasons. According to the National Institutes of Health, these include…

  • Age-related wear and tear
  • Injuries to the joint, from sports or accidents
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Genetic factors

Three Ways to Ease Arthritis

1. Resistance training.

As we explained in our essay on calcium supplements, weight-bearing exercise is best for building strong bones.

It turns out that weight-bearing and resistance exercises also improve arthritis symptoms. And research from the University of Missouri found that running and high-impact training in general helps build strong bones and fight osteoporosis.

As a French study earlier this year pointed out, resistance training alleviates inflammation throughout the body and builds up muscle strength. They saw reduced pain and better sleep in patients with RA who exercised 60 minutes a day, five days a week for four weeks.

And an essay from the University of Florida reviewed evidence that OA improves with resistance exercise. The researchers advised to take it slow and give your joints proper rest in between workouts.

Remember to go slow. Motion is best for helping your joints stay active, but overdoing it can lead to damage. You might also consider consulting a physical therapist to help you form a plan for exercise.

Remember too that there are dangers to consider when weightlifting. Weightlifting can cause bone fractures and muscle strains. There's also the danger of dropping a weight on yourself and causing serious injury. So start out with light weights and be careful.

2. Walking.

OA mostly affects the knees, hips, and lower back… all joints that benefit from walking.

A study from Boston University and published in the medical journal Arthritis Care & Research found walking keeps osteoarthritis at bay. According to researchers, 6,000 was the magic number… as in steps walked per day. This was the amount participants experienced the most health benefits, like avoiding knee pain. People who walked less than this were more likely to have knee pain.

Researchers used fitness trackers like the Nike Fuelband, FitBit, and Jawbone UP to keep track of the participants' steps and speed. In addition to walking 6,000 steps per day, researchers also found the best speed is around two miles per hour.

Even better, it turns out you don't have to get all 6,000 steps in at a time. To get in your 6,000 steps per day, do what I do… Go for several walks each day. I often have walking meetings with coworkers. Walking your dog or grandchildren around the block a few times a day will also help. (The city block I walk in Baltimore is about 537 steps.)

And according to the American College of Rheumatology, low- to moderate-impact exercise (like walking) helps keep RA symptoms under control as well. Long-term studies show that RA patients who exercise have less bone loss and better activity levels as well.

3. Yoga.

Sore joints benefit from gentle stretching and balance exercises, like the kind done in yoga practice. Many view yoga as a safe, gentler way to exercise. In fact, it's one of my favorite exercises.

It's good for arthritis, too.

One study from the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation analyzed 12 different reports on OA and yoga. They found overall patients who participated in 45 to 90 minutes of yoga a few times a week saw their pain improve as well as a reduction in swelling and stiffness.

And a study from the Journal of Rheumatology showed that yoga helped lower pain and improve quality of life for folks with RA.

Yoga is easy to start. Many gyms and yoga studios offer senior-focused practices. Instructors design these programs for folks over the age of 50 who may have joint or back problems like arthritis. 

Following these three recommendations, along with a healthy diet full of inflammation-fighting foods (like olive oil), will help keep your joints and your body healthy and happy.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement, 

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
December 13, 2016