Why Does My Knee Hurt When It's Cold?
Nearly 15 million people suffer from joint pain in the United States. If you're among the millions, you understand the dread that comes with a cooler forecast. You probably wonder, why does my knee hurt when it’s cold?
Your knee hurts when it's cold because of a couple of reasons. For one, everything is stiffer in cold weather. Secondly, barometric pressure can cause inflammation in your joints, thus resulting in sore knees and other joints.
What Is the Cause of Knee Pain in Cold Weather?
If you have knee pain when cold, you are not necessarily suffering from a knee injury. Sometimes just the cold weather will cause achy joints including painful knees.
In cold weather, your body attempts to conserve heat. It sends more blood to the organs in the center of your body, the parts that you need to function. So your body prioritizes your heart and lungs over your toes and fingers.
Thus the blood vessels in your appendages like your legs and arms begin to constrict. You have less blood flow to these areas, and they begin to feel colder and become stiff. Stiffness and cold can make your joints ache.
Barometric pressure changes can also cause achy joints. Your body can have an inflammatory response in the joints when the barometric pressure rises and falls. Typically, barometric pressure changes when the weather turns cold and damp.
If you're a runner or a walker who enjoys the outdoors, you'll especially feel the effects of cold weather on your joints. Cold-weather pain happens most often in weight-bearing joints like knees, hips, and ankles. If you spend a great deal of time exercising outside, as runners do, then you'll feel the effects of cold on your joints.
What Causes Cold Knees?
What are cold knees? These are not knees that feel cold because of cold weather.
The term "cold knees" refers to the sensation of cold you feel on your knees when there's no environmental explanation. You cannot relieve the sensation with a blanket or more clothes.
Your cold knees often come with knee pain and range-of-motion problems.
Five different syndromes and problems can cause your knees to feel cold. These conditions come with other symptoms.
You can have arthritis in your knee, which basically means unexplained inflammation in a joint. Osteoarthritis comes from gradual wear and tear of the cartilage in your knee. Thus osteoarthritis often accompanies older knees.
As you age, your knees simply begin to wear out. They develop arthritis. You'll know you have osteoarthritis if you have pain, swelling, and stiffness along with those knees sensitive to cold.
Osteoarthritis also causes a general decrease in physical health, partly because you just cannot move as you used to. You may experience a lower pressure pain threshold in your knee and increased pain overall.
Neuropathy is damage to the nerves. Peripheral neuropathy can cause your extremities, including your knees, to feel cold. You may have neuropathy if you feel cold, burning, or stabbing pain in your extremities, if you feel extreme sensitivity to touch, or if you feel numbness or tingling in your feet and hands.
Neuropathy can be a sign of other problems like diabetes, lupus, and a variety of other problems.
Peripheral Artery Disease
With peripheral artery disease, you have a buildup of fat in the organs that feed blood to your legs and vital organs. You could have one leg that feels colder than the other or even skin that looks pale and blue.
If you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, or if you smoke, you could experience peripheral artery disease.
Raynaud's phenomenon is a circumstance where your cold temperatures or stress cause your blood vessels to narrow periodically. The vessels basically spasm and narrow, causing reduced blood flow and a cold feeling.
Raynaud's phenomenon typically affects your hands and feet, but it can also affect your knees. Your fingers or toes may turn white, blue, or purple, and you may feel cold or numb.
Hypothyroidism basically means your thyroid is not performing up to snuff. Your thyroid is not producing all of the hormones you need, and thus you end up with dry skin, fatigue, weight gain, joint and muscle pain, and difficulty tolerating the cold.
Hypothyroidism is actually a sign of bigger problems. You could have Hashimoto's disease, an inflamed thyroid, or just a genetic predisposition. Hypothyroidism can also result from radiation treatment on your thyroid or thyroid surgery.
Cold Knees VS. Knee Pain When Cold
Each of these phenomena causes your knees to feel cold and to begin to hurt. The cold around you isn't causing knee pain. Rather there's something going on inside you that causes your knees to feel cold and then begin to ache.
You might be wondering, what about knee pain when I'm cold, then? What causes this?
Why Does My Knee Hurt When It’s Cold
When the weather is cold, your knee will hurt for a couple of reasons. You may just be having an inflammatory response to the change in barometric pressure.
This is the type of pain you hear people complain about when they say they can feel a storm coming on. When someone says they can sense a storm because their joints ache, they're ultimately referring to the changes in barometric pressure.
Also, when barometric pressure changes, you can have changes in your circulation, and this can cause nerve fiber sensitivity. Your joints will ache with this sensitivity.
If you can't bend your knee without pain, you could just be suffering from environmental shifts, with drastic barometric pressure drops or raises.
Knee Pain When You're Cold
Perhaps, though, you just feel knee pain when you're cold. But why does this happen? Why do you feel knee pain when you're cold?
The knee pain could just come from stiff joints. The same way that everything else stiffens up in cold weather, your joints will stiffen.
If you're a runner, you cannot just jump in and attempt to run at your normal pace in colder weather. If you do this, you will experience sore and achy knees.
Even if you're not a runner, you may need to warm those knees up.
Basically, in colder weather, your muscles are tighter and stiffer. They do not fire as easily as they would in warmer weather. This weak firing causes pain in your knee because your ligaments are stretched more with your muscles not firing as quickly.
Cold weather will make your tendons stiffen. The cold reduces circulation overall. With reduced blood flow to the muscles, your knees will begin to ache because the muscles aren't working as efficiently.
You can solve this problem by warming up your knees. A heating knee pad could alleviate some of your discomforts and provide you with the warm joints you need to move freely again.
When Do I See a Doctor?
If you have unexplained cold knees, you should see a doctor. This means that if you feel a cold sensation on your knees but do not know why you feel this, make an appointment.
Cold knees can result from a variety of illnesses and even infections. A doctor's visit could lead to instant relief. It could also lead to a more serious diagnosis and overall cure for your problems.
If your knees ache when cold, you can mitigate the pain in a few different ways.
If exposure to cold causes your knee pain, it only makes sense then to try to keep those joints warm. Take a warm shower or bath, and use an electric mattress pad or electric blanket to stay warm at night.
Dress warm if you're going to spend some time outside. Layers are your friend in cold weather, so use them. Begin with a base layer of long underwear or tights under your clothes to keep the heat in.
Then use warmer, thick, windproof outerwear.
Extra weight can cause undue stress on your joints. If you lose weight, your joints will have less stress and you will experience less joint pain. Your knees may still ache a bit in the cold weather, but they will not hurt as much as when you were carrying around extra weight.
Ease Into And Out of Movement
If you're exercising outside do not just start running. Do some warm-up exercises in the warm indoors before you head outside and exercise.
Basic stretching before you run will help warm up the muscles surrounding your knees and keep them from stiffening up on the run. Your joints won't hurt because of the cold if you can stretch those surrounding muscles out first.
In the same way that you shouldn't start running or exercising outdoors suddenly, you should not stop suddenly. If you need a break, keep walking and moving. This will help keep your knees warm and reduce the likelihood of knee pain.
Once you've finished your run, do not hang out in the cold. Head somewhere warm or just keep moving until you can. Incorporate a proper cool-down with some stretching in a warm place.
Doing the right exercises before, during, and after you run or exercise outside will help you avoid stiff and painful knees.
Basic physical therapy exercises are a great way to build mobility in stiff knees as well. These types of exercises aren't just for rehabbing an injury but also a great way to build muscle around your joint so you can avoid future knee pain.
If the weather is cold, you will not feel like drinking. However, drying out decreases your flexibility, increasing the wear and tear on your joints.
Water helps lubricate your joints. So make sure you hydrate well before you head outside to exercise or even if you're just attempting to stay comfortable indoors.
Topical pain medication keeps your skin lubricated but also reduces your risk for osteoarthritis. We have more than Ben-Gay these days, and the right medication can help your knees feel much better in cold weather.
Focus on building the muscles around your knees to stabilize your joints. Basic weight-resistant exercises like leg lifts and step exercises can help build up those muscles and stabilize your joints.
You have to remember that your knee is one part of a much bigger whole. Your core stabilizes your entire body. Thus when you have a weak back or butt muscle, then the weakness will trickle down to your knee and ankle.
Building up your core muscles will help you stabilize your knee and keep it in line with the rest of your body. This way, no matter what the temperature is outside, you'll have a strong enough body to exercise outside.
If you have a sore knee or any sore joint, take time to ice it. Take time to apply ice to the joint especially if you experience soreness after exercising. Ice will help reduce inflammation and soreness in your knee.
As you age, you will begin to notice how what you eat affects how you feel, much more than when you were younger. Your joint pain can result from a poor diet.
For science is beginning to show that sugar increases inflammation in your joints. So if you lay off the sugar, you will begin to see a reduction in inflammation and will have less sore knees.
If the weather is extremely cold, consider moving your workout indoors. When temperatures dip into the single digits, stay indoors. Don't be a hero by attempting to gain a coveted ice beard or frosty cheeks.
See a Doctor
If you have tried these interventions and still experience knee pain, go to a doctor. Pain is your body's way of telling you there's a problem. You may have a problem that only a doctor can fix, so listen to your body.
Ease Your Cold Knees
You now know the answer to the question, "Why does my knee hurt when it's cold?" You can move forward to ease the pain of cold knees.
For all of your knee solutions, contact us. We'd love to help.