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Bone and Joint Health Action Week: This Winter, Don’t Feel It in Your Bones

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How Can I Prevent Joint Pain when the Weather Turns Cold?

Ensuring good joint health year round is key to preventing joint pain as the temperatures drop.  The goal is to ease the pressure on your joints so they are less prone to injury or pain. 

Maintaining a healthy weight can help to decrease stress on your  joints, especially the knees.  I recommend keeping a healthy diet and consider incorporating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and nuts. Also, make sure you're getting plenty of Calcium and vitamin D to help keep your bones strong and prevent joint pain. Look for a supplement with D3 (the kind your body manufactures from sunlight), but check with your doctor first because some supplements can interact with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications.

It is also important to maintain a regular exercise regimen to build up muscle and bone strength.  Before any exercise, be sure to do some light stretches to warm up the muscles.  Just be sure you don't overdo it! Choose low-impact aerobic moves that are easy on joints, such as walking, yoga, pilates or tai-chi, which enhance your range of motion. Lifting weights can also help because it builds joint-supporting muscles. Swimming and bicycling are among the best exercises because both allow you to exercise your joints without putting impact on them. Because water is buoyant, aquatic exercises can also relieve some of the pressure on your joints.

As the weather gets colder, you should dress in warm layers to avoid the shock of the cold on your muscles and to help keep your joints loose.  Just remember the three “L”s of joint health: Lean! Limber! Layers!

What should I do for aching joints?

Short term joint pain can be treated at home with a P.R.I.C.E. method:

Protect the bone or joint with a brace or assistive device.

Rest the joint, avoiding any activities that cause pain.

Ice the joint for about 20 minutes*, several times each day.

Compress the joint using an elastic wrap or bandage.

Elevate the joint above the level of your heart.

*Applying ice to your painful joints can relieve the pain and inflammation. For muscle spasms around joints, try using a heating pad or wrap several times a day. Heat helps relax your muscles and will loosen up stiff tendons and muscles in your joints. Your physician may recommend alternating ice and heat to reduce the inflammation while loosening the muscles.

How do I know if my joint pain is more serious?

Joint pain is very common, as some surveys show about one third of adults report having joint pain.  Knee and hip pain are the most common complaints; however joint pain can affect any part of your body from your ankles to your shoulders and hands.  It can range from mildly irritating to outright debilitating and can last a few weeks (acute), or months (chronic). 

If you experience any unusual or new symptoms with your joints — such as persistent swelling, redness, difficulty putting pressure on, or using, the joint — it’s a good idea to consult your physician. If your joint pain gets intense, your joint suddenly becomes inflamed or deformed, or you can no longer use the joint at all, seek medical care right away.

I’m worried about surgery, what are my options?

Your doctor will first try to diagnose and treat the condition causing your joint pain. The goal is to reduce pain and inflammation, and preserve joint function. Treatment options include:

Medications and Supplements
Some research has indicated that Glucosamine sulfate and Chondroitin may help by nourishing cartilage and increasing lubrication in your joints. Both of these substances are components of normal cartilage, which helps cushion the bones and protect joints.

For moderate-to-severe joint pain with swelling, an over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen sodium (Aleve) can provide pain relief.   If you have milder pain without any swelling, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be effective. Because of the side effects and risks, you should only take these pain medications after consulting with your physician. Topical Agents

Topical NSAIDs such as Voltaren Gel (diclofenac sodium topical gel) can be effective in treating arthritic pain. Capsaicin — a substance found in chili peppers — may relieve joint pain from arthritis and other conditions. Another topical option is an arthritis cream containing the ingredient, methyl salicylate, Ben Gay.

Injections

For bone or joint pain that can’t be treated by oral or topical medications, your doctor may prescribe an injection of steroid medication, which may be combined with a local anesthetic,  directly into the joint every three to four months. The procedure is effective, but in most cases is only temporary. It can also have side effects; if steroid injections mask an injury, you could overuse the joint and damage it even further.

Other injection options include hyaluronic acid (viscosupplementation) which is naturally found in the fluid in our joints, but decreases in arthritic conditions. The benefits of these injections may last for several months.

Physical Therapy

You can work with a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles around the joint, stabilize the joint, and improve your range of motion. The therapist will use techniques such as ultrasound, heat or cold therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and manipulation. This is often used in conjunction with the other treatments listed above.

Surgery

If conservative measures are unable to adequately manage your pain and it becomes a burden on your quality of life, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment. The only way to “cure” an arthritic hip or knee is to perform joint replacement surgery. This involves the removal of the diseased portions of the affected bones and replacing them with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic parts. The materials and approaches we use today allow us to get you back to your activities more quickly and safely. With the use of modern bearing surfaces, your new joint can last up to 20 years or more when done well and without complications. The use of minimally invasive and muscle sparing techniques, such as the direct anterior approach for hip replacement allows us to get our patients up and walking on the day of surgery without any restrictions.

 

If You Have Joint Pain

Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and layering up in the cold winter months can help keep your joints healthy and pain free! If you do experience joint pain, you should talk with your physician. Your primary care physician can gauge how severe your pain is and refer you to an orthopedist is needed.  

 

Mikhail Khaimov, DO, earned his Medical Degree from New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury, NY. He completed his Residency in Orthopaedic Surgery and his Fellowship training in Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement at Northwell Health – Plainview Hospital in Plainview, NY. Dr. Khaimov specializes in primary Hip and Knee Arthroplasty, Revision Hip and Knee Arthroplasty, and Direct Anterior Approach for Hip Replacement. He provides advanced orthopedic care to patients in West Nyack.