The temperature drops, a storm’s on its way, and your hip begins to hurt. Is this a coincidence, or does the weather have an impact on joint pain? While there is no consensus, about two-thirds of people who suffer from arthritis report having increased pain when inclement weather develops.
Why Weather Could Impact Joints
From those who can predict storms before they arrive to those who experience increased pain after bad weather hits, people with arthritis report a strong correlation between the level of their joint pain and the weather. Some experts believe this is due to the effects of changing barometric pressure on the body.
Barometric pressure is essentially the weight of the atmosphere around us. When this pressure drops before a storm, there is less force pushing against the outside of our bodies. In someone with arthritis, this allows more room for tissue to expand and put increased pressure on the joint. This is demonstrated when we fly in airplanes. Even in the pressurized cabins of a commercial flight, our feet can swell, but they don’t swell when we’re seated for a similar period of time at sea level. Anthony Carnell, D.O., primary care physician at St. Joseph Health Primary Care Austin’s Colony, says, “In people without joint problems, the impact of changes in air pressure is very small and hard to detect. But in those with chronic pain, nerves can become more sensitive due to injury, inflammation, scarring or adhesions.”
After a winter storm leads to another joint pain flare up, some people believe moving to a warmer climate will ease the severity of their arthritis. However, people tend to acclimate to where they live and easily detect changes in the environment they’re used to. From Maine to Texas, there’s no area of the country that reports lower levels of joint pain.
While the theory of how barometric pressure affects joint pain is widely believed, it still has not been proven. In two studies from 2016, scientists found no correlation between 1,350 patients’ daily self-reported pain levels and meteorological data. But with so many people who do report a relationship between joint pain and the weather, what could be going on?
Some experts think it’s psychosomatic, meaning the mind might be to blame. The belief that inclement weather impacts joint pain goes back to Roman times, so people may perceive events in a way that confirms their own beliefs in that idea. For example, on sunny days, people with arthritis may not take notice of increased pain. When it’s raining, however, they may rationalize that their increased pain is due to the weather to fit with this idea.
In the physical sense, people are more likely to go outside and be active when the weather is nice. Because light activity can ease joint pain, people may notice more pain when they’re stuck inside due to weather, while any pain that happens on a beautiful day could feel less severe due to exercise. This could be a reason why people associate warmer climates with less joint pain.
But even the scientists who don’t think there is a correlation aren’t sure what to make of patients who have joint pain that can predict the weather. Because so many people with weather-linked joint pain experience symptoms before the first drop of rain falls, this suggests something is happening physically under certain conditions. However, there are so many factors involved that scientists have not been able to thoroughly test all combinations and pinpoint the exact cause.
Regardless of the conflicting studies, there are steps you can take to limit joint pain. Whatever the weather outside, be sure to stretch and warm up thoroughly before exercising to protect your joints, and take advantage of our MatureWell Lifestyle Center’s gym, indoor pool and fitness classes exclusively for adults 55+. If you experience an increase in pain, visit your doctor at St. Joseph Health. Make an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists today!
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