If you are living with joint pain conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, then you probably already know that a change in the weather can produce alterations in the frequency or intensity of your pain condition. People with less chronic pain may not believe that you can feel climate changes “in your bones,” but there is a growing body of scientific evidence that a correlation exists between a change in the seasons and joint pain.
First of all, you should understand that our bodies are deeply attuned to the seasons. That is why many health conditions worsen at certain times of the year. Although the exact cause of this symptom aggravation is not known in every case, it may be related to changes in:
- Barometric pressure
- Shortening day or night cycle
- Circadian rhythm
- Presence of allergens
There are many health conditions that are affected by these factors, including:
- Migraine headaches
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Weather and Arthritis
Arthritis is one of the most common joint pain conditions. In the United States, almost 40 million people suffer from one form of arthritis or another. More than 21 million Americans have osteoarthritis while 2.1 million suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Although joint pain is common to all forms of arthritis, many of these diseases utilize quite different physiological mechanisms. For example, osteoarthritis involves the degeneration of the lining of joints, while rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune illness in which your immune system attacks joint tissue.
Most of the evidence that arthritis is influenced by the seasons is anecdotal. Some studies have been performed attempting to reveal any such relationship, but most of these studies have proven inconclusive. One study of 200 osteoarthritis patients found that every ten-degree drop in temperature produced more pain. However, another study of 222 osteoarthritis sufferers, concluded that pain increased when barometric pressure and humidity rose.
However, a preponderance of anecdotal evidence is sufficient to convince many medical experts that there is a relationship between seasonal weather changes and arthritis join pain. Many patients complain that their symptoms worsen when it rains or when colder temperatures arrive.
Many experts believe that impending rain, which is preceded by changes in barometric pressure, may affect joint tissue. A drop in barometric pressure may make muscles and tendons expand or contract, possible applying or reducing pressure in joints. A lower temperature may also thicken fluids in joints, making them stiffer and more painful.
Inclement weather also affects daily activity habits which influences joint pain symptoms. Most people will limit their activities when it is rainy or cold. This inactivity allows joints to stiffen, producing more pain in the long run.
Finally, it is important to recognize the key impact of your mental health. Many people experience a decline in emotional buoyancy when the days shorten, and this may negatively influence joint pain. Not only can depression produce joint pain symptoms independently of any arthritic condition, but it may intensify existing joint pain. It can also make sleep more difficult which can sharpen pain symptoms.
How to Limit Joint Pain When the Weather Changes
It is one thing to recognize that joint pain symptoms are worsening due to seasonal changes, but it is more important to take active steps to limit pain and joint damage. Here are some helpful ways to limit seasonal symptoms:
- Increase vitamin consumption—a good diet is foundational to your fight against joint pain and damage, but diet may not be enough. Some studies suggest that arthritis patients don’t get enough Vitamin D, so it is important to load up on Vitamin D-rich foods. Many experts recommend that you take pill supplements of Vitamins D, E, A and K for optimal joint health.
- Stay hydrated—dehydration puts unnecessary stress on your joints. Drinking liquids regularly ensures that there is enough lubricant in your joints and that your joint tissue is operating at peak performance. There is also some evidence that lack of hydration may make you more sensitive to pain.
- Remain warm—it is important to keep your joints as protected from the cold as possible. Wear extra layers when going outside to mitigate any damage the cold may inflict on you.
- Maintain activity levels—you may not feel like going for a walk in a rain or snow storm, but you should still keep active. Lack of use can lock up joints and aggravate pain symptoms, so continue with your stationary bike or yoga even in the cold weather months.
- Warm water—whether it is swimming in a heated pool or soaking a hot bath, water can do wonders for your joints. The penetrating warmth can loosen stiff joints and alleviate joint pain. After soaking, gradually re-acclimate to the cold to prevent a shock to your system.
- OTC medications—depending on how severe your joint pain is, your doctor may recommend over-the counter medications like Tylenol or aspirin. Many of these medications can prove just as effective at relieving pain and inflammation as more potent prescription drugs. Always discuss all of the drugs you take with your physician beforehand.
- Massage therapy—many patients suffer from muscle pain as well as pain from their joints. Long-term pain can produce muscle contractions, but a deep tissue massage can help relax tense muscles as well as stiff joints. There is also a powerful endorphin rush following a massage that will provide considerable pain relief.
- Restful sleep—many people experience changes in sleep patterns when the day shortens or lengthens. Maintaining a restful sleep schedule is critical to healthy joints and pain mitigation. Stick to your regular sleep schedule as much as possible. If you are having difficulty, discuss your remedy options with your doctor.
- Physical therapy—if you are not already seeing a physical therapist for your joint health, then a new season may be the ideal time. Not only will you learn more about how to limit joint damage and optimize your health, but the therapy sessions should improve your joint function and pain symptoms.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.