Weather and Arthritis

As cold weather settles into Northwest Arkansas, are you likely to have more arthritis pain?

Arthritis Care & Research says no. An Australian team studied 900 patients in different climates and found no correlation between weather and arthritis. Their conclusions confirm those of many scientific studies which have tracked pain reports and weather over months or years, and found no significant correlation.

But those findings contradict the feelings of many people with arthritis and related health concerns. Physical therapists report that when rain is on the way they hear more complaints about pain and centuries of oral history tell of old people who could predict the weather by the feelings in their bones.

One reason for this could be barometric pressure.Weather changes are often associated with a change in the heaviness of the air. The air always exerts some pressure on us. When humidity increases and temperature drops, that pressure lessens. People with inflammation in their bodies could feel increased pressure from the swelling as lessened air pressure allows slight additional swelling. These changes could be small enough that studies can’t measure them, but large enough that very sensitive people could feel them.

Cold, damp weather can also make some people feel less contented and more inclined to notice pain. Cold can make people tense up their muscles and warmth can make them relax, increasing the likelihood of more pain in cold weather and less pain in warm weather.

For some people, cold weather can also mean less time out in the fresh air with other people and more time at home alone. Boredom, stiffness from sitting, and a lack of distractions from aches and pains can make winter seem to bring more pain.

Whatever the reason, once people associate certain weather with pain, they are more likely to notice that pain when it’s associated with that weather. Pain on cold days makes sufferers think, “Oh, this cold weather is making my arthritis flare up!” while pain in warm weather doesn’t trigger thoughts about the weather.

If cold weather seems to be increasing your arthritis pain, you probably don’t care much what researchers say. You want relief from that pain. Here are some suggestions from the National Council on Aging:

  • Stay warm. It may sound obvious, but if warmth makes you feel better, turn up the heat. Put on warmer clothing and try an old-fashioned hot water bottle.
  • Stay active. Regular exercise helps with arthritis in a number of ways, including better sleep and greater flexibility. Talk with your doctor about the right kind of exercise for your specific condition.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. More weight to carry puts more stress on joints.
  • Stay in touch with your physician. Pain management options change over time, as does your physical condition, so don’t think you already know what your doctor will say. You may have more choices than you realize.