Winter is Coming for Your Knees - Here's How to Keep Knee Pain on Ice

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The frostier months ahead can be tough on the knees, here are 4 tips for relief.

If you live in a climate where seasons are a thing, and the winter brings temps that dip into the single digits or below, you've probably heard the term "winterize" and applied it to some aspect of your life during these chillier months of the year. And having been born and raised on the East Coast, I am all too familiar with this term. Winterization is a technique frequently used on household structures such as pools, lawns, or sprinkler systems, or cars and boats, perhaps. No matter the object in question, "winterizing" is an attempt to prepare and protect it against freezing up from the winter months' sometimes harsh and frigid elements.

Did you know that your health can also experience "seasons" in relationship to the weather outside? It makes sense. Our bodies are constantly reacting and responding to external stimuli. For example, when it's sweltering outside, we sweat, and our bodies can respond by becoming dehydrated more quickly. When it's freezing outside, the muscles of our bodies can contract, and our joints can become stiff. The knees are no exception to these forces of weather.

The phenomenon of increased knee pain during colder months has been studied and theorized upon for many years. Though there is insufficient clinical evidence to point to a direct cause, one plausible theory is that the body attempts to retain and conserve heat during the winter by sending more blood to the vital organs like the heart, lungs, and digestive system. As a result, the blood vessels of the joints in the body's extremities receive less oxygenated blood flow. They may become stiffer – resulting in pain or a decrease in an otherwise normal range of motion for some people, especially those with arthritis.

But there's good news! You and your knees don't have to (and shouldn't!) take this chilly time of the year lying down. There is plenty you can and should do to winterize your knees (and the rest of your body) for the cold months ahead. Here are four simple-to-employ tips to help you stay active and keep knee pain at bay well into spring!

Warm-Up Your Wardrobe: Especially if you will be exercising outdoors (but even if you aren't), be sure your wardrobe is ready for the colder months with insulated garments or long thermal underwear that can help keep the knees warm underneath otherwise unlined clothing. If it's true that blood flow to the knee joints is less efficient during this time of year, then we can help it along by keeping this area of the body as warm as possible. Layering clothing while outdoors is a must, but even if you get cold while inside, throw on a pair of fitted thermals or compression leggings underneath jeans or sweatpants to achieve added warmth, compression, and insulation for the knees.

Boost Circulation: During winter, an electric heating pad may seem like a fine idea. But when a bout of knee pain strikes, help relieve it with moist, not dry, heat. You can achieve this by placing a warm, wet compress over the knee, or better yet, taking a warm bath. The application of moist heat to the knee joint can increase muscle relaxation and boost blood supply to the knees while relieving rigidity and stiffness.

Get Moving: Understandably, the colder, darker-earlier months of the year can make regular exercise less attractive. But it's still necessary! And although knee pain can make it tougher to move around with ease, it is crucial to try. Keeping knee joints lubricated through light but consistent activity can help prevent knee pain from worsening. If walking outside is impossible during this time of year, consider finding an indoor walking track or other large space (a mall, for example), where you can take laps without being blasted by the elements.

Mind Your Mental Health: Some forms of depression can become more severe during the winter months, and a heightened sensation of pain can be a symptom of even the mildest forms of depression. If this time of year has you feeling blue, consider regular visits to a mental health professional to be sure the health of your mind gets the same loving attention you give the health of your body. Working through depression with an expert provider can help many people who experience chronic knee pain feel better mentally and physically – allowing them to continue activities of daily living that bring joy and overall well-being.

If these three out of twelve months of the year tend to aggravate your knees, a little TLC can make a big difference in getting to spring with your joint health intact. Be sure to make your health a priority during this time of year and always. And if you've got knee pain so severe that it prevents you from performing daily duties with ease, please make an appointment with your doctor to have it evaluated.

Sources:

Health Tip “Winterize Your Knees” previously approved on 12/1/20.

https://www.orthobethesda.com/blog/why-knee-joint-pain-increase-when-its-cold/

https://www.webmd.com/arthritis/heat-and-cold-therapy-for-arthritis-pain

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9293-seasonal-depression

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