It is common for people with chronic joint pain to feel more pain and stiffness when the weather turns damp or cold. Unfortunately it can make getting up and getting active hard to bear.
While it’s easy to be skeptical when an elderly relative says his or her joints are predicting that it will rain tomorrow, it turns out they may be right. Essentially, our joints sometimes act as human barometers.
The pain you feel when the weather changes can decrease your regularly planned exercise or activity and starts throwing off your plan towards weight loss or keeping fit so you look and feel great and keep a high level of energy.
Researchers believe it’s not actually the cold, snow or rain that causes an increase in joint pain, but rather it’s the change in the outside barometric pressure that causes pain in your joints. Robert Jamison, PhD, a professor at Harvard Medical School along with several colleagues, performed experiments with chronic pain sufferers to investigate this phenomenon. The resulting study reported that “67.9 percent of the people surveyed reported that they can feel a change in their pain before rain or cold weather occurs.”
Does the pain you experience with weather changes mean that your joints are wearing down and getting arthritic?
Not always. If you’re feeling the same achiness for an extended period of time, it’s not just the weather affecting your joints. But it’s important to realize how your joints work. They have some fluctuation in the pressure and quantity of fluid that they hold. Jamison likens the joints to a balloon. “When a balloon is inflated, it has the maximum inside and outside pressure. High pressure that pushes against the body from the outside keeps tissues from expanding”…essentially keeping your joints in check. But when the weather changes and it gets cold, cloudy and rainy, as a very loose rule, the atmosphere is at a low-pressure which takes the pressure off of your joints which actually allows them to swell. This can put increased pressure on the nerves that are abundant in your joints and you feel pain as well as lack of motion (stiffness) from the swollen joints. “It doesn’t take much expansion or contraction of your tissue to affect a pain trigger,” Jamison adds.
Do you have to move to a warmer climate to get out of pain?
Moving to a warmer climate unfortunately will not help the problem in most cases. Jamison says “There’s no heaven on earth. If you have awful back or neck pain … there’s a good chance that that pain will travel with you.” According to Jamison’s research, there is no area of the country where people experience less pain. The patients with chronic pain who lived in San Diego reported just as much pain as their counterparts in Boston. Jamison says, “I think as mammals, we kind of adjust to our climate.”
Here’s what you can do to manage joint pain that comes and goes with the weather:
- Support your joints – Use joint supports (such as elastic knee bandages or support gloves for your hands) to keep tissues from expanding with the change in weather.
- Keep warm – Dressing warmly and applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to painful areas will help to relax your muscles and ease pain.
- Keep moving – Much as you may long to stay curled up under the duvet in bad weather, moving around will help keep your joints from stiffening. Our chiropractic treatments make sure your joints aren’t getting stuck and your body is moving well so your muscles and tendons don’t pull painfully during activities or even while resting. Once your joints are straightened out, you can continue making your body happy in motion by walking, running and doing some gentle yoga and stretching exercises.
Movement is a great way to keep pain at bay. So make sure that you don’t give up on the physical activities you’ve got planned just because the weather is bad. If you’re feeling the same achiness for an extended period of time, it’s not just the weather affecting your joints. Our treatment has helped many people experience pain relief sometimes as soon as the day we see them; within one visit.