How to

13 December 2016

The Connection: Joint Pain & Cold

For much of the year, joint pain is indicative of an old injury or a condition like runner’s knee. However, when the temperature drops to chilly, low-level joint pain and aches can plague even the healthiest person. Some people claim they can “predict” cold fronts from a throbbing pain in their ankle. You might question the legitimacy of the idea, joint pain caused by the cold, but it isn’t all that mysterious. The reason behind it, though, is.

Img source: lfchiro.com
According to Lauren Farrell, physical therapist and clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy, “Generalized joint pain, more specifically in the knees, is a common complaint that we hear during fall and winter seasons.” Based in Hoboken, NJ, Farrell spoke to SELF about the topic. If you live in a region of the world that gets somewhat cold even for a short period, cold-weather aches simply come with the territory. The body, as a whole, can succumb to these aches; however, weight-bearing joints – knees, hips, and ankles – are more susceptible. Regular runners (fun runners) are more likely to experience the unfortunate aching because “they tend to be spending longer periods of time exercising outside in the cold.”

Even though these issues are well-documented and widely-recognised, little research has been conducted to examine why it happens. There are a couple theories:
  • “The research suggests that in colder weather, the body will conserve heat, and it will send more of the blood to the organs in the center of the body, like the heart or the lungs,” claims Armin Tehrany, orthopedic surgeon and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care, “So, when that happens, the arms, legs, shoulders, knee joints, those blood vessels will constrict.” Without proper blood flow, those areas of the body stiffen and are more affected by the cold.
  •  “When it is cold and/or damp out, changes in barometric pressure can cause an inflammatory response in the joints. This response could lead to increased joint pain, due to changes in circulation and possible nerve fiber sensitivity,” according to Farrell. Though she does state that there is no supporting evidence to show that these responses occur.

Regardless of the exact cause behind cold-weather achiness, there is an easy solution: bundle up. Stave off the pain by dressing appropriately for the weather. Don several layers of clothing and keep your home adequately heated. If the problem worsens, sleeping with an electric blanket could really help.

People who exercise: if you’ll be engaging in outdoor activities be certain that you’ve properly warmed up. Doing so will increase the temperature of your muscle tissue, allowing your muscles to contract without strain and helping your body stay limber and avoiding stiffness. If you’ll be doing any running, jumping or lifting, stay away from static stretches, the kind where you hold a stretch for a certain number of seconds, because these can actually limit your physical performance. Dynamic or ballistic stretches are what you’ll want to do. 

For those who are unfamiliar with dynamic stretches, some good examples are leg swings, walking lunges, or deep body weight squats. These movements ready your muscles for the eventual strain of exercise, improving strength and performance. For the most part, reserve static stretches for after the workout. Cooling down is another very important factor in regular exercise. It gives your body a chance to center back on normal. A foam roller (this one is excellent) can be used to minimise tightening and to release muscles


Jacqui Litvan

Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).