Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is often considered to be a normal part of aging. Usually by the age of forty our joints, especially those which are weight bearing (lower spine, hips, knees, ankles, feet) begin to show signs of wear and tear. The cartilage begins to thin, joint surfaces are not as smooth, and fluid which lubricates the joint becomes diluted, dehydrated and less protective. Consequently, these aging joints become stiff, sore, weak, and sometimes swollen.
Most people with osteoarthritis report additional pain and stiffness in the winter and early spring due to cold, damp weather and NEPA has plenty of it! The cold, for example, restricts the flow of blood to the joints, leading to more pain and stiffness. While moving to a warmer and less humid climate is one solution, it is not practical for most. But all is not lost because there are other alternatives to protect and keep your joints healthier this winter and early spring.
A paraffin bath is one of the best methods to apply heat to your hands and feet to ease pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. A special heating unit works like a crock pot to melt the wax to liquid form. The hands and/or feet are dipped into the wax several times to create a warm coating around the entire area. A 20 to 30 minute treatment while watching TV or listening to good music will provide pain relief, improve mobility in the joints and bring life back to winter damaged skin. $39.99 to $159.99 (www.bedbathandbeyond.com).
Hot packs, electric and microwavable, offer heat to bring blood flow and lessen joint pain and stiffness. They are great for neck and lower back pain, depending on the shape of the pad. Consider rectangle for lower back and cylinder/round to wrap around neck and joints of arms and legs. SourceMed.com offers an electric pad which creates moist heat for $59.95 and a microwave “bed buddy” (herbal or nonherbal) can be found for $9.99 to $43.95 at TheWarmingStore.
Hand and toe warmers are small packets placed in the gloves or boots of skiers, campers and hikers to keep the hands and feet warm. These throw away warmers can also be used by anyone with cold hands or feet whether you are shoveling snow, attending an outdoor event in the cold or sitting in a cold, drafty room watching TV. (Walmart, Dick’s, www.amazon.com)
Supportive sleeves for the joints can provide protection and warmth year round, but especially during the cold winter and early spring. Those made with neoprene material offer warmth and compression and can be valuable when participating in activities such as skiing, walking, running, basketball name a few. Additionally, it can be helpful for those having joint pain with daily activities such as grocery shopping or house work. These devices should not be used when sitting for prolonged periods of time or sleeping. There is no scientific evidence that supports the use of cooper or magnets weaved into the sleeves for additional pain relief. (available at most pharmacies and medical equipment stores)
Similar to neoprene sleeves, compression shorts, pants and shirts can be invaluable to those participating in outdoor activities in cold temps. UnderArmor, Reebok, Nike, and others make these products which can also be worn indoors for those working in cool, drafty environments.
It seems obvious how and why hot water and massaging water jets can soothe the sore joints and muscles. To ensure additional pain and stress relief, add a candle, soft music and a cocktail!
If you suffer from osteoarthritis to the joints of your lower body, you would be well-advised to limit impact activities such as running and basketball. Instead, walk, swim, use the elliptical and bike to protect your joints.
As above, if you have arthritis in the joints of the upper body, use low weights, avoid push-ups and dips, which transfer your body weight through the arms.
As many of you know, I love outdoor activities year round. However, with age I have become a little more sensitive to the cold…which can be a problem when you are skiing, skating, snowshoeing, or hiking. Fortunately, technology has made it possible to be “warm in the cold!” I love my heated vest because it not only keeps me warm, but I require less layers and less bulk to be toasty. These products come with a rechargeable battery. Heated gloves are also available. Vests and jackets range in price from $60.00 to $200.00 but you don’t have to by the most expensive to get a good result. Visit www.ororowwear.com; www.ihoodwarm.com; www.amazon.com
These over-the-counter, non prescription drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) which are very effective in the treatment of the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. A topical NSAID, Voltaren, is also available over-the-counter. However, like all drugs, they are not without their risks so one must consult with their primary care physician and pharmacist before using them. For example, NSAIDs can thin the blood, irritate the stomach and may interact with other medications.
Topical analgesics or pain relievers can be rubbed into or sprayed on the skin over the affected area. Some products are counterirritants using menthol, methylsalicylate and camphor which provide a sensation on the skin other than pain. Salicylate based products can work like aspirin to provide relieve from mild pain and inflammation. Capsaicin based products can also provide temporary relief due to the counter stimulation of warmth and tingling. A few things to keep in mind when using these products: one, discuss it with your physician or pharmacist. Two, topical agents are more effective in superficial joints such as the fingers, toes, wrist, elbow, knee and shoulder than in the deep tissues of the hip, buttocks, or lower back. Three, wash your skin thoroughly ater using these products and before using heat, cold or electric stimulation.
The therapeutic benefits of massage are well documented. However, like most treatments, it is important to find a qualified professional that meets your needs. Licensed physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and massage therapists are the best choice. Benefits include; relief from pain, headaches, muscle spasm, and stress, improved relaxation, posture, and breathing.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.
For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles visit our Health and Exercise Forum