Why do our knees hurt in the cold?

Do your knees hurt when the temperature drops? Have you ever wondered why this discomfort occurs?

Currently, there is no concrete evidence on a link between cold and knee pain, however, there are different theories that seek to explain the possible mechanisms behind this relationship. Learn about them here, as well as ways to prevent pain during the cold.

Why do knees hurt?

The knee is one of the most complex joints, but also one of the most exposed, so it becomes a very vulnerable point and prone to injury.

Many times, the knee can hurt us due to blows or bad movements made during daily activity or exercise, although there are other risk factors:

  • Drink alcohol and smoke excessively.
  • Not stretching properly before or after physical activity.
  • Suffer from degenerative disorders, such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Having a bad diet.

Depending on the type of discomfort, such as inflammation or stiffness, you can choose different options to find relief:

  • Application of ice or heat.
  • Perform aquatic training, tai chi or physical therapy.
  • Practice bending exercises, such as lunges.
  • Use cognitive behavioral therapy or acupuncture.

After consulting a healthcare professional, pain relievers or topical medications, orthotics such as neoprene splints or sleeves, and injections may be used.

Although knee pain is common, you should see a doctor if:

  • You cannot bear weight on the knee.
  • You have severe pain, even when you are not bearing weight.
  • The knee bends or locks.
  • The knee is shown disfigured.
  • You have redness or warmth around the knee area, or swelling, numbness, tingling, or bluish coloration.
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How does the cold affect the knees?

Although the relationship between cold and knee pain has been sought, there is not enough evidence to know the mechanism behind this link, nor to assume that it only responds to a single cause.

Specialists outline different explanations for this phenomenon. One of them is concentrated in the synovial fluid, a thick fluid found in the joints.

It helps reduce friction between cartilage and other tissues in the joints to lubricate and cushion them during movement.

It is believed that during low temperatures the synovial fluid can be expected and thereby make the joints stiffer, thus causing the well-known knee pain.

Another explanation can be found in the blood. In the cold, blood flow often diverts away from extremities, such as the arms and legs, to concentrate on vital organs, such as the heart, in an effort to keep them warm. However, this takes heat away from the joints, making them more painful.

The muscles can also be responsible for knee pain during the cold, since in low temperatures they tend to tense, becoming less flexible, and, therefore, increasing the risk of pain or injury.

Leaving physiological functions behind, many experts believe that the answer to knee pain during cold weather can be found in certain habits that we adopt during this type of climate.

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According to different investigations, it is common for cold days to negatively affect mood, and this, in turn, can affect pre-existing knee pain.

Another risk factor is that, on cold days, you are less likely to spend time outdoors, which can mean less exercise or physical activity and more sedentary behavior, leading to increased stiffness and pain in your joints, including your knees.

Lack of time outdoors is also associated with lower levels of vitamin D (mainly obtained from sun exposure), which is linked to increased joint, bone, and muscle stiffness and pain.

Finally, there are those who claim that knee pain is linked to cold climates due to barometric pressure, a measure used to know the weight of the air.

When a cold front enters, the barometric pressure tends to drop, causing less pressure on the body from the air. This can cause tendons, muscles, and joints to become inflamed and painful.

How to prevent knee pain during the cold

The relationship between cold and knee pain should continue to be investigated, however, and regardless of the cause or causes, there are habits that can be incorporated to protect the joints during low temperatures:

  • Maintain a healthy diet: incorporating fruits, vegetables, lean meats, cereals and seeds, while reducing ultra-processed products rich in sugars, fats and salts, is a good way to take care of the body and obtain the necessary nutrients to protect and strengthen the joints.
  • sleep properly: Respecting 8 hours of uninterrupted daily sleep helps protect tendons, bones and joints.
  • Don’t give up exercise because of the coldPhysical activity helps strengthen the bones and muscles around the knees, taking pressure off the joint. Create aerobic exercise routines to do at home or consult a professional to recommend the best exercises to do indoors.
  • Wrap up wellWearing warm clothes when you go out helps to get extra warmth and prevent joint stiffness.
  • Do not forget to consult your doctor about your knee pain. After making a diagnosis, they can recommend medications or other treatment options to relieve discomfort.

    Sources consulted: American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

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