Hospital:

Certain Summer Activities May Contribute to Your Worsened Joint Pain

August 6, 2019

Have you ever blamed the brisk winters or brutally hot summers for your knee or hip pain? While weather can play a role in how your joints feel, it’s not always the determining cause. In fact, changes in your everyday activities may have even more of an impact on joint pain and arthritis progression.

Dr. Michael Harrer, orthopedic surgeon, sees an influx of patients with complaints during the summer. They actually prefer cold weather more than hot weather, he says.

“Concrete evidence behind the impact of weather on joint pain is lacking,” said Dr. Harrer, of Rothman Orthopaedics. “You may experience more pain with barometric changes, as well as precipitation, however, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact medical reason. It could be psychosomatic, meaning psychological stress is actually triggering physical stress.”

The most likely culprit, Dr. Harrer explains, is overexertion. During the summer especially, it’s common for people to become more active and golf, fish, hike, and walk much longer lengths than usual.

This kind of physical activity – to a safe extent – can be incredibly beneficial for those with early arthritis, but for those with late arthritis, it can do more harm than good.

“If you still have healthy cartilage in your joints, it’s important to nurture it and maintain your range of motion through exercise,” explained Dr. Harrer. “When that cartilage is severely degenerated, bone-on-bone friction will occur, causing you to feel much worse.”

While managing your joint pain can be discouraging at times, being sedentary is never the answer. It’s key to speak with your orthopedist and ask what a healthy amount of exercise is, and what activities may or may not be safe to try.

“Sitting still can diminish the joints, muscles, and bones, and their weight-bearing and load-bearing capacity,” continued Dr. Harrer. “This is a primary reason why the bitter winter months can wreak havoc on the joints – because you don’t move as much.”

Year-round, it’s crucial to maintain your muscle strength and bone integrity, says Dr. Harrer. You can do this through gentle exercise or a physical therapy program.

“Certain activities should be avoided by those suffering with any stage of arthritis,” explained Dr. Harrer. “Don’t attempt aerobics or intense yoga classes, with any squat, hyper-flexion, or lunging routines. These can truly crush your knees and exacerbate your arthritis.”

Beneficial, and much less demanding, exercises to try over the summer include riding your bike, taking walks, weight training, and swimming.

The best way to ease joint pain, and also one of the hardest, is – you guessed it – weight loss. But why does it diminish joint pain so immensely?

“When you walk, the pressure placed on your joints is your weight multiplied by three,” explained Dr. Harrer. “So, if you lose 10 pounds, you lose 30 pounds of pressure with each step.”

In addition to weight loss, stronger back, glute, and thigh muscles can help you walk more gently.

In terms of pain management, over-the-counter or prescription-strength (if needed) anti-inflammatories should be the first step. When these don’t work, your orthopedist may suggest steroid or lubricant injections. When all else fails, it’s time to discuss surgery, says Dr. Harrer.

Because there are many factors at play when it comes to managing joint pain and arthritis, it’s important to speak with your doctor about lifestyle changes, and always listen to your body – especially what is too difficult for it.