Autumn and the Seasonal Shift of Symptoms

Fall is by far my favorite time of year, especially when living in a place with prime foliage. The few weeks at the end of September and beginning of October seem to pass too quickly, but I extract every last bit of leaf peeping from the season.

Sweater weather, cooler temperatures, pumpkin picking, hot cocoa (or pumpkin spice you-name-it) and one final, fantastic show of colors before plant life goes dormant--that’s the autumn that most people know. While these things excite me too (except for pumpkin spice mania at the grocery store), the changing of the seasons also signals a shift in my AS symptoms.

Change in season, change in activities

I love to be outside during the warmer months of the year. Without fail, the Spring-to-Summer transition means an uptick in outdoor activities for me. I get out and do more walks with the dogs, more hikes with my wife, more tennis games and I even sneak in a few camping trips.

As we all know, movement and exercise helps relieve joint stiffness especially in the spine whereas stasis increases pain and stiffness. It’s easy to get out and exercise during the summer months (well easier--very few things are easy with AS), but when it’s cold out I’m much more likely to stay wrapped up in a blanket inside then to go battle the winter wind and snow.

So, in the winter, I have to be more deliberate and determined when using exercise to manage my AS symptoms.

Cold weather and increased symptoms

For me, the cold weather makes my joint symptoms worse. I can say this definitively from years of experience.

If you Google "how changes in weather affect arthritis symptoms" you’ll find that the jury is still out. There’s not a whole lot of scientific evidence to explain why joint pain and stiffness is affected by changes in weather, such as colder temperatures or precipitation. But science and lived experience tell slightly different stories sometimes, which doesn’t make either any less valid. Those of us who experience seasonal changes in our symptoms know. After all, no one in their right mind would make this sh*t up, right?!

I tend to feel an uptick in hip pain and stiffness in the winter, likely caused by enthesitis. When I’m out walking or hiking, the cold seems to penetrate my clothes, skin, and jab right into my joints, restricting my movement. Not only that, but my body takes longer to recover in the winter months.

Tips for winter joint pain relief

So how do we prepare for increased joint pain in the winter months? There’s no avoiding the cold unless you live in a warmer climate, and I can’t handle sticking with purely indoor activities for an entire season.

Here are a few obvious but noteworthy tips for managing symptoms during the winter months:

  • Dress or overdress for the weather. Even if you’re just walking to the car and back, make sure you bundle up, wear thick and warm footwear, and don’t skip the gloves!
  • Use the tools that are available to you: heating pads, seat warmers in the car, hot hands and hot feet disposable hand and feet warmers, etc.
  • Take advantage of the over-the-counter pain creams that work for you. I like to use Volteran gel and any type of cream or patch that has lidocaine, but I know others that prefer menthol pain creams. Carry it with you and use it when you need it!
  • Wear loose clothing in layers so that you can easily adjust to the temperature. Looser clothing helps trap heat better than tight fitting clothes. And better to overdress and remove layers when hot then allow the cold weather to dig into your joints!
  • Take warm baths to help your joints recover from the extra pain and stiffness that comes with arthritis during the winter months.
  • If you start off the day with lots of joint pain, consider canceling or rearranging your plans so you can avoid additional discomfort that cold weather brings. Choose indoor exercise activities until your symptoms ease up.

This all may seem like common sense, but if you’re like me, you get stuck in old habits developed during the pre-AS days and could use a reminder. Be good to your body, especially during the winter months!

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