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Tips for managing elderly arthritis this winter

As the temperature drops many people might find pain in their joints getting worse. Read here to find some tips for managing arthritic pain.

November 28, 2022

Elderly man sitting with pain in the knee

Arthritis is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition that affects around 10 million people in the UK. Whilst you can have arthritis at any age, it’s much more common in older people, with research indicating that it affects more than half of women over the age of 65 and around 40% of men over 65.

Arthritis symptoms can worsen over the winter months, with the condition making daily tasks and activities even more challenging.

In this article, we share some tips on how to help manage arthritis over the colder months of the year to minimise the condition getting worse and the potential negative impact this could have on the quality of life.

Arthritis and cold weather

Arthritis can be very painful at any time of the year, but many people with the condition find that it’s even more challenging during colder months.

The most common kind of arthritis, and the one most associated with age, is osteoarthritis. It’s caused by the cartilage and tissue, which protects bones, wearing down over time.

Some of the symptoms can include joint pain and stiffness, limited movement in that joint, swelling or a feeling that the joint isn’t as stable as it used to be. The most common areas of the body to be affected are the hands, the back, the neck, and in the joints that bear the most weight, like the feet, knees, and hips.

Many people with osteoarthritis find that their symptoms get worse in the winter, and it can mean that mobility is affected, as well as other aspects of daily life that become harder to manage, due to pain and having more limited movement in some joints.

This could also potentially be one of the risk factors for falls in elderly people with arthritis, so it’s important to minimise the chances of having a fall and risking further injury.

Elderly man with arthritic knee pain

Why is arthritis pain worse in winter?

While there are still some unknowns about why arthritis seems to worsen during the winter, there are many theories about arthritis and cold weather, including:

  • That it’s related to the lower atmospheric pressure that occurs often at this time of year
  • That the nerves are more sensitive in cold weather, so the pain and discomfort of arthritis seem more pronounced
  • That lower activity levels at this time of year mean that people with arthritis get stiffer joints and experience more pain because they’re not moving around as much

Although the reasons for increased winter arthritis pain are not fully known, there are some ways in which the condition can be managed which can make a real difference to the symptoms being experienced by many older people.

Infographic tips for managing arthritis

Tips for helping with winter arthritis pain

Keeping the joints warm to soothe arthritis

With the current cost of living crisis and record highs in home energy costs, staying warm this winter is a real worry for many households.

Older people, especially those with a limited income or pension, can be vulnerable to fuel poverty and might choose to use the heating less often this winter.

As well as the other dangers of not staying warm enough at home, it can have consequences for arthritis too, with colder joints tending to be stiffer and more painful.

Keeping joints warm doesn’t necessarily need the home’s heating system to be on at all hours. It could instead take a combination of:

  • Warm baths or showers
  • Electric blankets or throws
  • Heat pads
  • Wearing layers on the affected area
  • Using hot drinks to help warm the hands.

As always, care must be taken when using anything hot or electrical to prevent accidents.

Exercise for arthritis and staying as active as possible

Being active isn’t always easy as we age, especially in the winter, when it’s cold, the daylight hours are short, and the weather is often poor. If you add winter arthritis pain and stiffness to the equation, it can be even harder to get moving. 

Exercise is proven to help with reducing pain and improving movement for those with osteoarthritis.

Some examples of how you can gently exercise include:

  • Walking - whether it's short distances as often as you can manage, or taking a long walk on level (safe) paths, walking builds muscles and increases stamina
  • Swimming - water relieves pressure on your joints, so it's not only soothing but adding a few laps of swimming each time you visit the pool can help improve your health
  • Chair stand - slowly sitting down and slowly standing up to build your strength

Some daily gentle exercises can all help maintain and improve mobility in the over 60s, which in turn can help minimise the pain and other symptoms of arthritis.

Old happy woman

Eat ‘joint-friendly’ food

There are some foods that contain certain oils that are known to assist with joint health, so might be beneficial to those with arthritis. These include:

  • Oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon (at least one portion a week)
  • Healthy oils, such as olive oil, to be used for cooking
  • Nuts and wholegrains are considered beneficial
  • Vitamin D, which is mainly absorbed through exposure to sunlight, is important for bone cartilage and health. Taking a supplement during the winter months is recommended when there is little natural light to be found.

Some foods to avoid, because they could potentially be linked to making some arthritis symptoms worse, include:

  • Sunflower oil, containing polyunsaturated fat
  • Saturated fat in meat or other animal products. Something simple, like cutting the fat from meat before cooking, can make a big difference to the saturated fat content of a meal.

Maintaining a nutritious diet and being a healthy weight can make a big difference to arthritis – reducing pain and other symptoms.

Healthy nutritious food for elderly

Talk to your GP about pain relief for arthritis

If your arthritis pain increases during the colder months and you find it’s affecting daily life and the activities you can carry out, you might benefit from speaking to your GP about pain relief options.

Depending on the circumstances and any other medication you may currently be taking, you might be prescribed different pain-relieving medications or creams. You could also chat with your local pharmacist about recommendations for over-the-counter pain relief.

If you’re worried about falls or accidents this winter due to arthritis

If arthritis pain or other symptoms are making daily living and your normal activities more challenging during the winter months, and you’re concerned about having a fall or accident, you might want to consider a personal alarm.

With this type of alarm, if something does happen, you know that assistance is always just the press of a button away. Some elderly fall alarms have built-in fall detection technology, so can raise an alarm if it senses the wearer has fallen over, even if they can’t call for help themselves.

This kind of device can bring peace of mind to an older person, as well as their loved ones so that they can carry on living independently in safety. Our range includes personal panic buttons for the home and garden, as well as monitored personal alarms with GPS for taking out and about, which work anywhere in the UK.

We also offer elderly monitoring systems for UK homes, which can ‘learn’ what is normal at home and raise an alert if something changes or happens that doesn’t fit with the usual routine. This type of system can be invaluable for families that are concerned about their elderly loved ones when they’re not there. This could be an ideal way to help look out for an older relative with arthritis this winter.

Advice about personal alarms

If you would like advice on the best personal alarm system for your circumstances, our team would love to help. Our Independent Living Advisors are available Monday to Friday9am - 6pm.

Freephone 0800 085 7371

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure

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