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If you have joint pain, then you might agree that winter is a difficult time of year.
When the cold air sets in, it can make chronic joint pain even more agonizing to deal with. Everything is more stiff, tender, and achy during this season.
Over the last 24 years of battling rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pain, I have developed my own tool kit of winter tips and tools for stiff, painful joints. I hope they help you get through this time of year with less pain and more ease.
When I was 10 years old, my rheumatologist told me to get a paraffin wax warmer for my stiff and swollen fingers. These warmers can be fairly inexpensive, so my mom picked one up at the store.
Paraffin wax is a wonderful treatment for anyone with finger, hand, toe, or foot pain. Just dip your hand or foot into the warmed wax, wrap it with the plastic wrap it comes with, and let it sit awhile.
When it dries, slowly peel it off.
This is a great treatment to use during the winter, especially in the morning, when joints are the stiffest and most painful.
Many people who have any type of pain use a heating pad of some sort. I use many different types to make things easier.
I bought a microwavable heating pad many years ago, and it continues to be the most convenient purchase I have made. It takes about 45 seconds to warm up, then you can easily put it anywhere without needing an outlet to plug it in. This is convenient for when I am at the table or working at my desk.
A wearable heating pad is also convenient. I have a few that tie around the back or arms, which makes it easier and will keep it from falling off.
Lastly, a moist heating pad is a great addition. Moist heat penetrates the skin and muscles deeper, so you will feel a more soothing heat for your painful joints.
My doctor told me years ago to start wearing layers. Anytime I stepped outside in the cold air, all of my joints started to ache. Even though I was wearing a jacket, it wasn’t doing the trick. I never realized what a difference layering could make.
When I go outside in the winter now, I usually wear a simple T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, and a jacket on top. I never leave the house without good warm gloves.
Even though it doesn’t really get that cold in Texas, where I live, keeping the warmth on my hands makes a difference. Keeping your head covered is important, too.
I have found that soaking in hot water really gets my joints moving on cold winter mornings.
I like adding Epsom salt to my bath, along with some essential oils. While there isn’t enough research to scientifically back the benefits of Epsom salt baths, the remedy helps with my own inflammation and pain — and many others swear by it, too.
If you don’t have a bathtub, a nice warm shower first thing in the morning is also helpful. The steam in the bathroom, plus the warm water, can get your body moving.
If you haven’t tried a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit, winter is the perfect time to get one.
I discovered a TENS unit about 13 years ago when I was in physical therapy.
The stimulation it uses is really helpful for all types of pain, especially joint pain.
You can purchase a portable one for home use — it is very convenient. I hook it up to my knee and elbow joints in the morning for pain relief.
This is probably a tip you have heard many times, but I never realized how powerful stretching can be until I started doing it every morning.
When I wake up in the winter, my body is so stiff — sometimes I can barely move. After I walk around a little bit and have some coffee, I sit down and do some stretching. I spend 20 minutes, if possible, just stretching my legs and doing some very gentle yoga.
No matter how stiff I am, I feel so much better after stretching. Even mornings when I just don’t think I can move, stretching makes such a difference.
The American College of Rheumatology recommends doing stretching exercises three to five times a week to help improve the flexibility around affected joints.
It is very simple, but it makes a noticeable impact on stiff and painful joints.
For beginners, it may be beneficial to talk with a physical therapist about which foam rolling exercises will be the safest and most effective for you.
Warm drinks of any kind can have soothing effects in the winter.
For those of us with RA, green tea is an especially good option due to its anti-inflammatory benefits that may help soothe inflammatory pain.
Over the years, these tools and tips have helped me get through winter with fewer aches and pains. I hope they help you find more ease in your body during these colder months.
Alexis Rochester is an investigative chemist, blogger, and founder of Chemistry Cachet. She shares science-based skin care, cleaning, gardening, and health tips. She was diagnosed with RA at age 10, so she has a passion for pain management tips and research, along with sharing her journey through this disease. She lives in Texas with her daughter, husband, and bulldog. You can find her posting pictures and fun stories daily on Instagram. Also look for Chemistry Cachet on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.