Lyme disease is a complicated bacterial infection. Lyme patients may experience a plethora of different symptoms such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, numbness in the arms and legs, dizziness, and joint pain and swelling. In some cases, taking antibiotics can rid the bacteria from the body and return it to its formal health. In others, the symptoms that develop from the infection persist long after treatment.
When the joints are affected by Lyme disease, it is referred to as Lyme arthritis. Lyme arthritis can develop as early as one to a few months after contracting the bacteria from an infected tick. There is no way to definitively tell whether a person will recover after treatment or if the symptoms will stick around. For those unlucky enough to develop persistent Lyme arthritis, coping with the symptoms is the only way to deal with them.
Let’s learn some more about this condition, and investigate some top tips to manage Lyme arthritis in winter and beyond.
What does Lyme arthritis feel like?
When the bacteria that causes Lyme disease makes its way into the joints, it causes damage and inflammation to joint tissue. The affected joint will begin to swell and feel warm when you touch the area. Pain will follow, typically occurring with the movement of the joint. Joints can also become stiff and difficult to move.
While the knees are the most likely to be affected by Lyme arthritis, any joint can be the target of the bacteria. That said, larger joints such as the jaw, elbow, ankle, hip, wrist, and shoulder are often affected.
Does the cold make Lyme disease worse?
Cold weather can worsen Lyme disease symptoms, especially Lyme arthritis. There are several theories about why this temperature change leads to symptom flare-ups.
One theory suggests that the uptick in symptoms involves changes in barometric pressure. Barometric pressure can expand tissues. When that expansion occurs, pressure is put on the already-damaged joints, leading to more pain and stiffness.
Cold weather can also cause muscles in the body to tighten, which may cause symptoms to become worse.
What can I do to ease Lyme arthritis?
Easing Lyme arthritis involves a multi-pronged approach. Sometimes you’ll need to do a combination of things to help relieve your symptoms during the winter months. Some tips for managing Lyme arthritis include:
Explore treatment options
Seeing just any doctor for your Lyme arthritis won’t do you any favors. It’s important to go to a medical provider who is well-versed in the complex underpinnings of Lyme disease and what treatments are available.
Antibiotics are generally used to try to rid the body of the bacteria that causes the infection. However, they don’t always work. Some studies have examined another treatment known as plasmapheresis, which is when blood is taken from a person’s body and separated into two parts: plasma and cells. The cells are then introduced back into the body through a blood transfusion. While more research is needed, this treatment could be potentially useful for people with Lyme disease.
There are other possible managing treatments that you can explore. It’s best to consult with a medical provider who is privy to these techniques and skilled in providing alternative therapies to address your Lyme arthritis.
If you experience flare-ups when you’re cold, the best thing you can do is keep warm. You can do this by dressing in layers, avoiding spending prolonged amounts of time outside in the winter months, and keeping your joints warm indoors by using space heaters, electric blankets, hot water bottles, and warm clothes.
Try light movement
It’s hard to get up and go when your joints are hurting, but movement can relieve pain and stiffness. Light stretches and walking can loosen up the joint, improving symptoms. If you don’t have access to an indoor walking area and it’s too cold to go outside, you can try an at-home stretch routine designed for people with joint issues.
Eat a special diet
Food can hurt or harm you. Some foods can act as anti-inflammatories, whereas others can make inflammation worse. For example, sugary foods or those high in additives are likely to contribute to a flare-up because they cause an increase in inflammation.
You want to avoid eating foods like that and replace them with fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Adding foods proven to quell inflammation, such as Manuka honey, blueberries, green tea, and dark leafy greens, can also aid in managing symptoms.
Explore alternative therapies
Alternative therapies can be helpful tools in the management of your Lyme arthritis. Several holistic healing techniques may work, such as:
- Massage therapy
- Topical essential oils
None of these therapies will cure the disease, but they can make it easier to manage while you use other treatment techniques.
How long does it take to recover from Lyme arthritis?
In many people, the symptoms of Lyme arthritis disappear after a 28-day antibiotic course. However, some people may have lingering symptoms that arise from permanent damage. If that occurs, seeing a specialist who focuses on joint health conditions, such as a rheumatologist, will be the best way to determine how long you may have to cope with the symptoms and the best way to manage your specific case.
Lyme arthritis is not a walk in the park at any point in the year, but winter can worsen it. Trying any of the above tips may make this winter a little easier if you have Lyme arthritis.
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