The Winter Joints Blues

The Winter Joints Blues

I am not a fan of cold weather.  Sure, it has its time.  Like in December when there is all the holiday fun and fashionable boots and knit beanies and family and raging fires and wine and pie and Christmas lights.  It is all so cozy and just works when it’s cold.  When January arrives there is a rush of excitement for the new year and all the plans ahead so we don’t seem to notice the weather.  And then by mid-January the reality sets in that it is still freezing (wait, haven’t we been cold for 6 weeks?) and then you realize spring is still 10 weeks away.  Is it just me or does January feel like the month that never ends??  Thankfully, we are now into February and I feel like we have made the turn and are coming down the stretch towards spring.  Even though it feels so close, the reality is we are probably still a good 4-6 weeks from the first hints of spring here in Northern Virginia.

One of the most common complaints I hear at my Pilates studio during these cold winter months is that people’s joints hurt.  I know that my knees have been feeling a little angry the last few weeks.  But is it really the weather that wreaks havoc on the body or are there other factors at play?   Let’s take a look at 4 possibilities that may be happening…

  1. Cold weather causes muscles and joints to stiffen. Why?  Cold causes water to freeze.  Our bodies are 70% water and the fluid in our bodies react the same way thus constricting and impacting the flexibility of muscles and joints.
  2. Barometric pressure changes (pressure/weight of the air) lead to inflammation of fluid in the body, specifically joint fluid. This inflammation makes joints stiff and that stiffness hinders healthy function and range of motion.
  3. During cold weather, the body pumps more blood to the major organs and as a result there is less blood pumped to the limbs. Less blood flow=less circulation=stiffness=PAIN!  This may be why the joints that feel more painful during winter months are commonly in the extremities (i.e. knees, ankles, wrist, and hands seem to be the popular ones in my studio).
  4. We are less active. When it is cold, we are less likely to go for long walks and be active.  During the winter, the days are also shorter so when it is dark at 5pm it takes away even more time we may otherwise be active outside.  Whether it is walking, running, or just playing outside with your kids, that decrease in activity makes a big difference.

Any and all of these could be factors in increased winter joint pain and they all may play off each other.  The cold outside leads us to be less active which causes the joints and muscles to be stiffer which is exacerbated by cold weather which makes us even less likely to go be active and we can easily find ourselves stuck in a cycle of winter discomfort.  Fortunately, there is Pilates!

Why is Pilates the perfect remedy for those winter joint blues?  Pilates excels at addressing both chronic and acute joint pain because of its low-impact approach. Whether you are lying down, sitting, or standing, you are almost always supported in some capacity in Pilates.  The springs used in Pilates serve to add support to the body while also creating resistance.  What makes Pilates an ideal form of exercise for joint pain are all the different variations and equipment at our disposal.  For example, if you are on the reformer and the knees are painful, we can adjust the spring weight down to lessen the resistance or move you out to work a smaller range of motion.  Because Pilates is a full body workout, it will get the blood flow and circulation moving throughout the body thus warming up the cold, stiff muscles.  Once we get the circulation and heat throughout the body, those tight muscles are going to much happier and the joints will return to healthy movements.

Keeping a regular Pilates routine during these cold winter months will help lessen and alleviate joint pain and muscle stiffness.  And remember, spring is only 6 weeks away!