Is There a Painful Little Weather Forecaster in Your Joints?

There are 206 bones in the human body. Some of those bones meet, and it’s a good thing they do.

Joints are located where those bones meet, and they allow your skeleton to bend and move. They include your shoulders, hips, elbows, knees and hands.

Now, as wonderful and necessary as joints are, they can cause us issues due to a variety of factors. Including overuse.

As we age, joint pain can become more frequent. It can range from mild discomfort to an aching or soreness. And sometime to more intense pain. Occasionally the area around a sore joint is swollen or red. Sometimes it’s tender or warm to the touch.

Trying to Pinpoint the Cause

Like seasonal allergies, joint discomfort can increase due to changing weather. Depending on where you live, you might be experiencing this as your weather turns colder.

Many people report more joint pain when it’s raining or cold outside. In fact, some people start to feel it even before the weather changes.

Dr. Javad Parvizi is a joint specialist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. It’s located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He says, “The phenomenon of people being able to forecast precipitation, especially rain, due to the level of their joint pain is real. There is science to back it up.” 

Scientists who have studied this phenomenon attribute it to different causes. Including changes in barometric pressure, humidity, temperature and precipitation.

Despite all the studies, there is no solid consensus on which weather factor is most to blame for the increase in discomfort. Perhaps they all contribute to some extent.

Targeting Barometric Pressure Changes

But barometric pressure changes may be the most likely candidate. One theory is that when cartilage cushioning bones inside a joint is eroded, nerves in the bones can be exposed. That can cause a reaction to the pressure change.

Another theory says that barometric pressure changes can cause expansion and contraction of tendons. Plus muscles and scar tissue. That can result in joint pain.

Yet another theory says lower temperatures can thicken fluid inside joints. That can make them feel stiffer.

Joints can also stiffen up when they’re not used as much as normal. Cold weather and rain could be indirect causes of this as well. That’s because we tend to stay indoors and more sedentary during the winter.

Sensory Nerves Act Up

Scientists who believe barometric pressure changes are the main cause of weather-related joint pain point to sensory nerves in joints. They’re called baroreceptors.

These baroreceptors react to changes in barometric pressure. Especially when the pressure lowers. As is the case when the atmosphere changes from dry to moist.

“When pressure in the environment changes, we know that the amount of fluid in the joint or the pressure inside the joint fluctuates with it,” Parvizi said.

“Our goal is to get that painful little weatherman out of the patient’s joints while treating the root cause of their condition.”

Rapid Changes Are Worse

Dr. Robert Bolash is a pain management specialist. He’s affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

He says, “Weather changes actually can affect… joint pain. Anecdotal evidence is significant in leading us to think achy joints and rainy days are related.

“When barometric pressure and temperature fall and humidity rises, patients will complain of more aches and pains. Damp cold seems to exacerbate pain.”

Bolash added it’s not only changes in pressure, temperature and humidity that trigger discomfort. But also the speed at which these changes take place.

Studies Are All Over the Map

Not all scientists believe barometric pressure is the main cause of weather-related joint pain. They feel that most studies have not been conclusive enough.

For example, one survey of people with knee problems found their pain increased when the temperature and barometric pressure dropped.

Another study of people with hip issues determined this. They experienced more discomfort when humidity and the barometric pressure rose.

One research group assumed matching up medical records of joint pain sufferers with weather conditions might reveal something significant. It didn’t.

How to Find Relief

Here’s the bottom line. If weather changes increase your joint pain, it doesn’t really matter exactly why. What matters is getting relief. Here are a few ways you can do this, courtesy of WebMD.com.

  • When temperatures drop, try to keep yourself warm. Take warm showers or baths. Dress in layers during the day including gloves and warm socks. Use an electric blanket at night. Turn up the thermostat if necessary.
  • Try a paraffin bath. It’s a small machine that melts paraffin wax. Dip your hands and feet in, then let the wax harden on your skin. Your body absorbs the heat, which may soothe achy joints. Or use a heating pad on sore spots.
  • Ask your doctor if some pain medications would be safe and helpful for you. Such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Keep a healthy weight and stay active. Try exercise that is gentle on joints. Such as yoga or swimming. You’ll be able to build up muscle and bone strength along the way. Remember to limber up first with stretches before you exercise outdoors.
  • Make sure you take care of your health in general. With good nutrition and plenty of sleep.

No matter where you live, it’s possible your joint health could be negatively affected by weather changes. Fortunately, there are ways to lessen that discomfort.

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