Ways the Winter is Affecting Your Hands and Joints

The coldest season of the year comes with all kinds of challenges to adapt to after months of warmth. From icy accidents to snow sport injuries, no body part is safe from the hazards of winter. In this post we’ll be outlining some of the common injuries and conditions that occurring during the colder months and how best to avoid them! We’ll be touching on:

  • Arthritis flare ups
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Injures from the snow and cold conditions
  • Injuries from winter sports (such as skiing and hockey)

Winter Arthritis

So you have arthritis. You already know this. But why are your arthritic symptoms worse in the winter months than in the summer? This happens for a couple of reasons:

  • When you’re warm, your body is loose.  When you’re cold, your body is tense. People tend to be less active outdoors in the winter because of the cold weather. This means you’re hunkered inside and not out moving about. The lack of warmth and activity keeps your joints stiff, making your arthritis symptoms worse.
  • Changes in barometric pressure have proven to cause changes to a person’s joints, generally causing more swelling, pressure and pain.

In any case, there are some steps you can take to help make the pain and swelling from arthritis less bothersome in the winter months:

  • Staying active is essential! Participating in outside actives or going to the gym indoors will help keep your body regulated and your muscles strong.
  • Bundle up; keep warm inside and outside.
  • Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink water throughout the day and increase intake during and after activity.
  • Find the right time to be active. If your body is stiff, move slowly until you are more warmed up and then start to pick up the pace at your comfort level. Don’t try to do too much too quickly on a cold body.

Slip and Fall Injuries

The injury that is probably most associated with ice is the good ole’ slip and fall. This incident affects all ages and can wreak havoc across your body, ranging from bruises to fractures. If you slip and fall forward, you’re most likely looking at a wrist, shoulder or knee injury, depending on what hits first. If your feet slip from under you and you fall backward, your back and tailbone are at risk. Though it can be hard to prevent a slip and fall, there are some actions you can take to help reduce your risk. Wear boots with good tread when stepping on the ice. Move slowly, taking little steps at a time and hold something (like a railing or the side of car) if possible. Maintain your balance when moving and avoid having your hands full. When at home, be sure to keep your walkways clear of snow and salt often!

Cold Weather Conditions

Frostbite is a big winter bummer, most commonly affecting the hands and feet. Frostbite occurs in cold conditions when your hands and feet are not properly protected against the elements. The freezing of the skin and tissue cause the skin to discolor and become tingly in the early stages, eventually leading to severe discoloration of the skin, loss of sensation/function and eventually the dying of the surrounding tissue (in extreme cases). The best way to protect against frostbite is proper attire and to limit your time outdoors during harsh conditions. Your hands and feet should remain dry and wear gloves and boots that are rated for the coldest conditions. Wear several layers (it’s always easier to take off than to add on) and seek warmth if you start to feel numbness or tingling in your extremities.

Winter Sport Trauma

Injuries for winter sports are seen quite frequently in the orthopedic world. Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and ice hockey are some of the biggest offenders, typically resulting in bigger orthopedic related injuries rather than smaller hand injuries. While hands/wrist can break or strain while bracing a fall, it is more likely that these sports correlate with knee, shoulder, elbow or hip injuries. The bending, jumping or twisting motions while on the snow or ice can lead to ACL or Meniscus tears in the knee. Shoulder injuries, such as dislocations, rotator cuff tears and clavicle fractures are common in hockey players and skiers. Hip injuries are also common among figure skaters due to the repetitive jumps, twists and throws, especially when performed on a single leg.

No matter the sport, the best method of injury prevention is education and mechanics. Before you start your activity, get in a good full body stretch after a light warm up; this will help keep the muscles loose and ready for action. Using and maintaining proper equipment is also important. Be sure your skates are sharp and that any boots/bindings (for skating or skiing/snowboarding) fit securely to avoid ankle injuries. Also, practice makes perfect! Start any sport at a lower level until you are more familiar with it and have the ability to navigate the activity safely.

For more information on winter sport trauma, check out our blog on skiing and snowboarding injures.

Sources:

https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/success-strategies/10-tips-for-cold-weather-exercise

https://www.parkview.com/community/dashboard/how-does-cold-weather-affect-arthritis

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/frostbite/symptoms-causes/syc-20372656#:~:text=Frostbite%20is%20an%20injury%20caused,and%20inflamed%20or%20discolored%20skin.

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