Although it is not unusual to feel cold and stiff and even chilled to the bone during the New York winter, people with arthritic conditions may suffer twice as much. The term arthritis literally means joint inflammation, but classified under that term is a group of more than 100 diseases that can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints, as well as in supporting structures such as muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments.
Some experts report that high humidity causes tissue swelling, which can intensify muscle and joint pain, whereas cold weather causes restricted movement. Others contend that changes in temperature or barometric pressure are what cause the most discomfort. Many believe the dry, hot weather of the Southwest U.S. (particularly the Arizona, Nevada, Southern California desert) helps to relieve the feeling of pain. Life can also be easier in a warm climate for people with arthritis because they do not have to struggle with ice and snow. It is important to note, however, that even if the warmer, drier climate reduces discomfort, it will not alleviate the disease itself.
HOW TO SURVIVE A N.Y. WINTER
So if you do not want to leave the great state of New York, what can you do this winter? The Medical Society of the State of New York recommends the following suggestions that were adapted from material provided by the Arthritis Foundation and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.
Symptoms of pain, stiffness or swelling around a joint are not sufficient proof that you have arthritis. Only a physician can determine for sure if you have arthritis, and if so, what type. Getting a proper and specific diagnosis can point you in the right direction for treatment. Getting treatment in the earlier stages of the disease can often result in less pain and damage to joints. Your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments that could include medication, managing your weight, techniques to help protect your joints, exercise and the use of heat and even cold.
An ice pack (or a bag of frozen vegetables) wrapped in a towel and placed on a sore area for approximately 15 minutes can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Those who have poor circulation should not use cold packs, however.
Moist heat, such as a warm shower, or bath, or dry heat, such as a heating pad placed on the painful area of the joint for about 15 minutes, can also relieve pain. A warm bath before bedtime can ease aching joints, relieve muscle tension and help you get a good night’s sleep.
Exercise is important because it can increase your range of motion, reduce pain and fatigue and make you feel better overall. Walking is the ideal exercise for most people with arthritis. It burns calories, strengthens muscles and builds denser bones—all without jarring fragile joints. If the weather is too cold to walk outdoors, try shopping malls or indoor tracks at health clubs or community centers. Water exercise is another good option for people with arthritis because the buoyancy of the water reduces wear and tear on joints while allowing you to build strength and increase range of motion.
The Arthritis Foundation has developed a walking program called Walk with Ease and offers water exercise and other classes. To learn details, visit www.arthritis.org or look in the telephone directory for the local Arthritis Foundation chapter.
Also, talk to your doctor about how much you should weigh and then try to maintain your ideal weight. Every extra pound you carry around translates to added stress to your knees and hips. Excess weight can mean more pain, no matter which form of arthritis you have.
DO NOT TRY TO WARM UP WITH ALCOHOL
Do not try to warm up by drinking a hot toddy, warm brandy or other form of alcohol. While alcohol is generally not a solution to any problem, for people with arthritis, alcohol’s harmful effects can be magnified. Excessive alcohol use can weaken your bones, which can lead to osteoporosis. Alcohol consumption also adds extra calories to your diet, which can add unwanted pounds and further burden painful joints.
In addition, alcohol does not mix well with certain arthritis medications and can aggravate other medical conditions. If you take medications for any medical conditions, check with your doctor about whether alcohol is safe for you to drink, even in moderation.
Additional information about arthritis can be found at www.arthritis.org and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease at www.niams.nih.gov.