Jack Frost is no friend when you have arthritis. Winter brings the challenges of sore throats, slippery sidewalks and cold, stiff joints. Linda Russell, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, offers these tips for staying well, safe and comfortable when cold weather hits.
Get your flu shot. Having a chronic disease or being over 65 puts you at risk of more severe flu than other people. While you’re getting your flu shot, ask your doctor if you need any other immunizations, Dr. Russell says.
Keep your hands clean. Autoimmune diseases and immunosuppressant medications used to treat them can leave you vulnerable to infection. Touching germy surfaces then touching your eyes or nose can make you sick. Frequent hand washing may reduce the risk of respiratory ailments by almost half. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends scrubbing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
Take your vitamin D. More time indoors means less opportunity to get the “sunshine vitamin,” which works with calcium to keep your bones strong. Dr. Russell recommends asking your doctor if you need a vitamin D supplement.
Keep your joints warm. In addition to causing stiff joints, cold weather may trigger blood vessel spasms in your hands and feet if you have Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that occurs in about 12 percent of people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Long underwear, an electric blanket and hand and toe warmers can help keep extremities warm.
Beware of ice. Slippery stoops and sidewalks can mean trouble for anyone, but if arthritis affects your balance, your risk of falls and injuries is greater. Wear footwear that “has some grip to it,” says Dr. Russell, and use a walker or cane if you’re unsteady. Also, focus on walking: “Don’t text or talk on the phone,” she adds. – M. Dunkin
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