CHILLED TO THE BONE
Monsoon season brings down the temperature significantly, which can exacerbate joint pains especially among those living with arthritis. Early detection, lifestyle changes and identifying symptoms can help managing it well. DT Next reports
CHENNAI: Monsoon season and cold weather are often linked to a hot cup of tea/coffee, a stiff drink or two with a friend, romance and even cosying down with a book at home. Those joyful moments of youth can generate a bit of positive anticipation during these months. But when age catches up and slows you down, you begin dreading these cold wet days, as all kinds of aches and pains intensify, making movements agonizingly stiff and tender. Individuals suffering from ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cervical osteoarthritis, and joint stiffness are likely to witness a higher intensity of symptoms as the temperature dips across the State. Likely causes There are various types of arthritis and related joint problems such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and lupus. Each of these has a unique set of symptoms, causes, and risk factors. Doctors opine that lifestyle modifications help manage the disease and prevent worsening of the symptoms. People who are physically active may have frequent muscle cramps during winters for the same amount of muscle movement. The muscles and tendons are under closed compartments of our body and they respond to atmospheric pressure. “When the barometric pressure drops, the fluid inside the muscles tends to expand and contract. This causes pain,” explains orthopaedic Dr Ashok S Gavaskar, head of joint replacement services, Rela Hospital. “The fluid within all joints synovial fluids lubricates the joints. It becomes thicker when the weather is cold and the joints become stiff. It’s common for people with arthritis.” He explains that hospitals also see new cases as people might experience the symptoms in warm weather but they exacerbate when there’s a drop in temperature. “People who have a habit of running can experience muscle cramps or pain even if they run the same distance and speed. Cases of rheumatoid arthritis that are in control or mild in nature can start flaring up in winters. There are a lot of viral infections and patients can also suffer from post-viral arthritis,” points out Dr Gavaskar. Early diagnosis crucial Medical experts say that most orthopaedic issues and/or rheumatic problems flare up during the cold season. Delay in diagnosis can lead to painful episodes, while maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and eating a well-balanced diet can help reduce strain on the joints and alleviate pain. Dr R Dinesh, deputy head-consultant of orthopaedics, Dr Mehta’s Hospitals, says that osteoarthritis was common in older and middle-aged adults, who experience a grinding sensation in the joint, reduced mobility, and swelling around the joints. “It’s a type of arthritis characterised by the gradual breakdown of cartilage. Gout, also known as inflammatory arthritis, mainly results from uric acid accumulation in a joint due to kidney dysfunction and diets rich in foods and drinks such as red meat, seafood, and alcohol. Psoriatic arthritis causes inflammation in the joints and connective tissues, and red, scaly patches develop on the skin. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that’s more common in women of childbearing age. Understanding these symptoms and getting the right treatment is important for effective management,” he explains. History of injuries Irrespective of the type of pain, early diagnosis is effective for managing it and improving the symptoms. People with a history of any fall or bone and muscle injury can experience a surge in the intensity of the pain. “While there is no specific cause of why such a phenomenon occurs, it’s likely because of the thickening of synovial fluid,” says Dr Mohammed Ismail, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Prashanth Hospitals. “When it thickens, movement of the fluid is reduced, making the joints stiffer. Nerve endings become more sensitive too, and the blood supply to the muscles reduces because of the contraction during the cold climate. This can also block nutrition to the bones and joints.” It’s advisable to ensure that the body is kept warm to prevent the symptoms from worsening. “Minimal amount of physical activity can keep the body warm and will ensure flexibility of joints and muscles. It is also important that muscles are not too strained or there can be cramps due to over-exertion,” opines Dr Ismail. Consistent medical review While it’s established that the muscle cramps, and joint pain symptoms worsen during the winter, modifications in diet and medications are also required for those who are already on treatment. “While rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is more common among women, we see more cases of ankylosing spondylitis in men,” says Dr Arun Kannan, orthopaedic consultant, Apollo Hospitals. “For better management of symptoms, consult an orthopaedic, as the required dosage of medicines and prescribed diet might need to be reviewed intermittently.” In addition to keeping the body warm, a healthy diet with a good amount of sunlight exposure can reduce the pain. Using heat pads or warm water pads and consumption of hot water is also advisable.