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"Low-Impact" Exercise Regiments Can Help Ease Winter Pains of Osteoarthritis

Bone-chilling winter weather can contribute to people with osteoarthritis experiencing more pain, according to an arthritis researcher at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ).

"But the good news is that a temporary increase in pain has not been found to worsen the arthritis," said Dr. Todd P. Stitik, a physiatrist at the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School in Newark. A physiatrist is a physician trained to treat patients through exercise therapy, physical or occupational therapy and oral pain-relieving medications.

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joint cartilage associated with secondary changes in the underlying bone, which may ultimately cause pain and impair the function of the affected joint.

Because cold weather, snow and ice usually causes individuals with arthritis to stay inside more, and walk more slowly when outside, why do the symptoms worsen?

Dr. Stitik cited a study conducted by Dr. John Hollander, a physician at the University of Pennsylvania, in the early 1960s. He put patients with arthritis in a climate-controlled windowless building so that they could not determine what the weather or temperature outside was.

"He found that the patients nonetheless were able to reliably predict the weather outside based on the amount of pain they were experiencing in their arthritic joints," Dr. Stitik said. "The joints were acting like a barometer."

If turning up the thermostat in your house won't fool your joints, what else can you do? Dr. Stitik made the following recommendations:

  • Keep your body weight as close to ideal as possible and exercise to strengthen the muscles surrounding the arthritic joints are two important factors in controlling pain. Performing a low-impact exercise, such as swimming or stationary bicycles, for 15 to 30 minutes a day can make a difference.

  • If you're taking medication or supplements, follow the proper protocol.

  • Use your joints intelligently to prevent unnecessary overload that can lead to further wear and tear.

You could consider consulting a physician specially trained in the use of exercises and oral pain relieving medications. Some patients also benefit from physical or occupational therapy.

Source: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey,

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