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Cold weather exacerbates a body's aches and pains

Tuesday - 11/12/2013, 12:47pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- When blustery air combines with seasonal dampness, aches and pains can get worse for those who suffer already.

"I would say probably two-thirds of my arthritis patients complain about the weather," says Dr. Assil Saleh, a rheumatologist with Foxhall Internists in D.C. "They tell you they can predict the weather based on how their arthritis is doing."

One of the best ways to manage aches and pains when cold weather strikes is to keep warm -- even if that does seem simplistic. Saleh says people with joint pain tend to feel better and do better when their body is warm and advises dressing in layers is advisable when it is cold outside.

There is, however, a caveat. Staying inside should not be an excuse to stop exercising, which is one of the best ways to deal with everyday soreness and stiffness, Saleh says.

When the weather gets colder, we tend to become more sedentary, "The joints are less mobile, they stiffen up, and it becomes a vicious cycle."

The answer is to keep moving indoors: vacuum, run or walk stairs, maybe even do a little dancing in the living room. Keep it gentle, but consistent.

And listen to your body. Take note of any signals it might send. If a joint is hot or swollen, that's a sign it's time to seek medical attention. But, Saleh says, for everyday aches and stiffness, "Exercise will loosen the joints and will make you feel better."

As for alternative treatments, like acupressure and deep body massage, Saleh says they may provide temporary relief if done by a well-trained professional. She says there is no firm evidence, however, that they will improve pain management over the long run.

"I think they are a luxury," she says. "I think if people can afford them or their insurance companies pay for them, why not?"

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