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Managing winter ailments

Benenden Hospital experts look at some common complaints that can be brought on by the cold weather, and offer some ways to tackle the symptoms.


Arthritis is the medical term to describe painful joints. Along with pain, symptoms can include stiffness, inflammation and deformity. Although it is a non-worrying condition, arthritis can seriously limit people’s independence and quality of life.

The most common forms of arthritis in the UK are osteoarthritis (wear and tear, degenerative disease), which affects 30% of the population by the age of 65, and rheumatoid arthritis (a disease where the body’s own immune system attacks the joints).

Please note: as arthritis is a long-term chronic condition requiring complex surgery, treatments such as joint injections and hip and knee replacements are not covered under your Benenden Health membership.

However, Benenden Hospital offers treatment on a self-pay basis, and we have negotiated reduced self-pay deals with a number of hospitals in the UK.

Helpful tips:

Besides moving to the south of Spain, here are some practical tips you can follow to help minimise the effects of the winter cold on your painful joints:

1. Keep warm

Wear many layers of warm clothes, focusing on the periphery, such as tights, leggings and gloves. Layering clothes can help you to adjust to the environment around you. Warm baths, hot water bottles and heated blankets can also help.

2. Keep moving

Exercise is key to strengthening and supporting worn joints. Indoor exercise plans for those cold winter days can be found on the internet, or personally tailored by your physiotherapist or accredited physical trainer.

3. Eat well

Supplement your diet with the vitamin D that you will lose from lack of sunlight.
• Omega 3 fatty acids – found in foods such as fish, avocado and nuts – can reduce joint inflammation.
• Consider joint supplements such as turmeric, glucosamine or cod liver oil. Drinking lots of water will also help lubricate the joints and ease pain.

Back pain

It is thought the colder weather brings on an increased prevalence of back pain because of a process called vasoconstriction, a narrowing of the blood vessels that diverts blood to the inner part of the body in order to conserve heat. This in turn causes a tightening of the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the spine. Rather than the spine itself, most back pain is derived from the muscles, tendons and ligaments that give it support.

Helpful Tips:

There are some simple steps you can take to help minimise back pain and discomfort:

1. Keep active
Regular low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming or biking, are some of the best ways to prevent back pain. And don’t neglect regular core strengthening exercises to keep your back supple and in top condition.

2. Stay warm
Keeping warm will help your muscles to function better. When you’re outdoors, wear extra layers and be sure to keep your back and neck covered by tucking in your shirt and/or wearing a scarf.

3. Try not to slip
Avoiding falls is also very important as this is a common cause of back pain. Slipping on ice in the winter weather can strain the back muscles, so wearing good footwear and clearing/using rock salt on paths can help reduce the risk.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Sometimes known as ‘winter blues’, SAD is a type of depression that displays worse symptoms during the winter. Here are some ways to keep symptoms at bay.

1. Have an exercise plan
A regular exercise plan can help combat sluggishness and low mood. Yoga or using a treadmill/fixed bike are great indoor options, while a run outside will give you a boost of mood-enhancing endorphins.

2. Keep busy
Being proactive and having a regular routine can help. It is useful to focus on different types of activities, such as things that give us a sense of achievement (like clearing out a drawer), things we find pleasurable (like crafts) as well as necessary things like doing the washing up (these can be pleasurable and give a sense of achievement too!).

3. Use light therapy
Studies have shown that daily light therapy can improve mood in 60 to 80% of people suffering from SAD. Talk to your GP about whether it is the right treatment for you.

If you are experiencing low moods, the Benenden Health 24/7 GP and Mental Health helplines are here to help. They can offer advice and direct you to further support on 0800 414 8247.

Urinary issues

Urinary issues in women are often exacerbated by the cold weather. Common symptoms which can affect your quality of life include some urinary leaking when you cough, sneeze and exercise, needing to pass urine very frequently and struggling to hold your bladder. You may even find you wake up many times during the night.

During colder spells, the body will sweat less, and in turn will need to produce more urine. This will lead to more frequent toilet visits, or even an increase in the number of accidents you might have.

Helpful Tips:

Don’t let your bladder hold you back this winter with these three easy steps:

1. Limit your drinks
Avoid alcohol, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and other caffeinated drinks as they irritate the bladder. If you are going for long drives, adjust how much you drink appropriately.

2. Exercise
Do simple pelvic floor exercises to improve your ability to hold your bladder and prevent leaking. A physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health can help with extra support.

3. Professional help
If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, seek medical help. A urogynaecologist can offer advice, medical therapies, outpatient procedures and surgery.