It’s no coincidence that many people complain of stiffness, achiness, and pain in the winter months. While there are many reasons why joint pain can feel intensified in cold weather, there are a few key factors, such as inflammation, decreased blood flow, and low mood, that can contribute to increased sensation.
Studies show that rising barometric pressure and humidity can contribute to joint pain. While relocating to a pain-friendly climate can help reduce symptoms, this is not a realistic feat for most people. However, understanding the link between temperature and pain can help to mitigate symptoms and inform pain-preventative practices.
University of Chicago Medicine rheumatologist Anisha Dua, MD, MPH explains that cold temperatures can cause muscles, tendons, and tissues to expand. This reduces blood flow to the joints, which can in turn lead to pain. Orthopedic surgeon and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care Armin Tehrany, M.D., adds that the inflammatory response in the joints caused by cold weather can lead to the body conserving heat. When this happens, the body sends blood towards the vital organs, decreasing circulation in the limbs. This can lead to nerve fiber sensitivity, which increases feelings of pain and stiffness.
While people with arthritis or chronic pain may be more affected by cold temperatures, those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a mood condition characterized by feelings of depression in the winter months, may also be more susceptible due to the way low mood can contribute to a heightened sense of pain.
Luckily, there are many natural ways you can help to lessen joint pain in the winter months that don’t leave you with a host of negative side effects often accompanied with prescription medicine. Here’s how:
Feeling cold increases feelings of overall discomfort. Dress warmly to ease into winter weather; not only does this help to increase circulation to your joints, but it also may help to reduce your experience of pain. Another great option to help combat the expansion of muscles, tendons and joints that people experience in the cold is to use saunas. Harvard Medical School explains that sauna usage can help to increase blood flow and raise internal body temperature, which may help reduce pain. Using light therapy is another great way to increase overall wellbeing that may help to lessen pain, especially in the hours leading to bedtime when your body temperature is decreasing. Traditionally used for those experiencing SAD, this is a tool to help lessen the inflammation that is often linked with depression.
Keeping up a regular exercise routine helps improve your overall mental and physical wellness. Since depression can magnify people’s perception of pain, daily movement is a great way to combat low mood due to the body’s production of endorphins, or ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Exercise also helps to lessen stress and anxiety, which both contribute to inflammation in the body. Plus, maintaining a healthy weight and building up muscle and bone through movement can help decrease pressure placed on your joints and lessen the pain that can arise with cold weather.
Cannabidiol, often referred to as CBD, is one of 120 cannabinoids that make up the cannabis plant. Unlike its sister counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD does not cause intoxicating effects, but rather produces an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to reduce joint pain. This occurs due to the way CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which is a system of neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. CBD binds to endocannabinoid receptors, which are proteins attached to cells that receive signals, mainly in the brain and nervous system. The interaction between CBD and endocannabinoid receptors helps to balance bodily functions like sleep, immunity and chronic pain. Studies show that CBD's ability to bring the body back into homeostasis, or balance, helps to regulate pain response. It also helps to balance the production of the chemical cytokines, which is associated with inflammation in the body and immunity. When the immune system is balanced, there is less likelihood of developing an auto-immune disease which is mainly caused by inflammation. Plus, CBD’s positive effect on stress and anxiety can further reduce the experience of pain in joints. Learn more about what strain is right for you by becoming a medical cannabis patient.