6 Ways to Survive the Holidays with Joint Pain

The holidays are a time when many people over do it. If you struggle with joint pain, here are some things to consider as you plan for this year’s festivity.

No matter what your holiday rituals include, there are plenty of fun ways (and reasons!) to celebrate this time of year. But for people living with chronic joint pain, the holidays—which are already known for being stressful—can cause a great deal of worry. 

Will pain hold me back from being present with my loved ones?

What if I can't join in on the family traditions?

What will people think?

If you or a loved one have joint pain and are concerned about making it through the holidays, consider these six ideas that may make the season less scary and more merry.

1. Travel in comfort and plan for breaks

Traveling to see loved ones this holiday? Whether you're driving or flying:

  • Be mindful of your posture—slouching in a seat for a long time can easily strain your neck, shoulders, back, hips, and other joints.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to make your flight or arrive at your destination. This minimizes stress and allows you to take much-needed rest breaks.
  • If on a plane or train, regularly perform travel exercises like ankle pumps, seated marches, and shoulder circles. These simple movements promote healthy circulation and may help with joint stiffness. If driving, take frequent breaks to get out of the car and walk around.

2. Consider limiting functions

Whether you have a small family or a large one, it’s amazing how quickly we can take on too many activities without even realizing it. Days that are supposed to come with extra rest and comfort end up packed with back-to-back events.

Make a list of the functions you attended the last couple of holidays, then proactively choose the ones that really matter to you. Be sure to schedule down time for yourself as well. And, hard as it may be, try not to let other people pressure, or guilt you because you’ve said you can’t attend. Like they say during a flight, you need to take care of yourself first before helping others. Don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself this holiday season.

3. Stay warm

Depending on where you live, your holiday season may come with cold weather, which may cause your joints to feel achier than usual. It turns out that weather-related pain isn't just an old wives' tale!

Several theories exist as to why some individuals feel more stiff and sore in the wintertime. For instance, the wintertime usually sees a drop in barometric pressure which causes connective tissues like muscles and tendons to expand, which can irritate arthritic joints.1  Many people also feel down and sad during dark winter days, which can increase the perception of pain.1,2

So, do your best to stay warm this holiday season!

  • Layer up when going outside—try long underwear, sweaters and jackets, hats, gloves or mittens, and waterproof winter boots.
  • Wear warm socks and sweaters indoors.
  • Set your household thermostat to a comfortable temperature, and if you have a fireplace, consider lighting a fire on colder nights.

4. Practice fall prevention strategies for winter weather

When you have joint pain, you may move around less often than you'd like to. This can lead to physical deconditioning and weakness, which may affect your balance or even increase your fear of falling.

Of course, keeping yourself safe from falls is important at all times of the year, but especially when the weather can create slippery conditions. So this holiday season, wear sturdy footwear with non-skid soles and try to keep the outside of your home clear from ice and snow. Ask your doctor for other things you can do to help while you’re out and about.

5. Don't overdo it with winter chores

Avoid overdoing it on winter chores like shoveling, playing in the snow, or even hanging up decorative lights. Doing too much of a novel activity can strain your body and put you at risk for injury. So ask for help and stay within your ability level.

If you live alone, you may be able to find people to help you keep up with the winter chores. Neighbors, friends, or even local church youth groups might be able to provide assistance.

That being said, it’s important to stay active, even in the winter, so talk to your doctor about an appropriate exercise routine for you.

6. Be mindful of your diet

Certain foods may increase inflammation and exacerbate joint pain for some people. Such foods include alcoholic beverages, cheese, and processed foods made with refined sugar.3,4 Surprise, surprise—these foods are popular at holiday parties!

Enjoy holiday treats in moderation. Meanwhile, stay well hydrated and fill up on healthy protein, fat, and nutrient-rich veggies to make sure your body is getting the raw material it needs for optimal tissue health and joint function.3,4

References
  1. Chakour, K. “It's cold outside! Do your joints hurt?” University of Chicago Medicine. November 20, 2019. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/prevention-and-screening-articles/2019/november/its-cold-outside-do-your-joints-hurt
  2. Hall-Flavin, D. “Pain and depression: Is there a link?” Mayo Clinic. April 2019. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/pain-and-depression/faq-20057823
  3. Cleveland Clinic Staff. “The best food to help relieve your pain.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. October 2016. health.clevelandclinic.org/the-best-food-to-help-relieve-your-joint-pain/
  4. Tedeschi, S., et al. “Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms: Survey Results From a Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry.” Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 69(12): 1920–1925; 2017.
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