Does the cold weather really make joints hurt more?
At this colder time of year, we often hear patients claim that certain joints and muscles hurt more. Since Roman times there have been reports of weather associated illness – even Hippocrates said that certain conditions are made worse by the seasons. Despite some swear blind that cold weather does have an impact, the jury is still out within the scientific community of whether there is really an association. Surely there must be something in what patients say?
There are numerous theories as to why reports of cold-related pains increase this time of year. One of them relates to changes in barometric pressure - the pressure in the air around us. In the colder seasons, the barometric pressure drops, which causes expansion or thickening of the muscle tendons and/or scar tissue. Any joints which have worn down cartilage, like those seen in osteoarthritis (OA), have more exposed nerves in the joint line, hence are more sensitive to changes in pressure.
Temperature changes have also been proposed to play a part. A lower temperature can cause greater stiffness in joints and muscles, both having the potential to cause pain.
Some cohorts are more likely to report cold-related pains, including those with OA, but also sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia or lupus. Ankles - usually with a history of ankle sprains - are a common area cited for this phenomenon. This is probably due to the inelastic or sensitised scar tissue which forms post injury. It is reported also in the knees, hips and back. Some say it is worse at rest too.
A recent European wide study shows that individuals who are classed as “weather sensitive”, report feeling more pain with OA when the weather is poor, than those who aren’t weather sensitive. Contrary to that, a Dutch study that showed a subtle increase in temperature actually increased the reporting of pain!
The reason there is some scepticism in the research community is “whether it is the weather…” or is it just that we move less in the colder months resulting in stiffer bodies?
Additionally, we now know that low mood can exacerbate pain in chronic pain sufferers, including OA, and cold-wet weather doesn’t quite lift moods!
Overall, the research for now has concluded that there is probably a relationship between cold weather and joint/muscle pain, but it is uncertain as to whether the weather is the cause. Correlation does not equal causation, as research lecturers like to say!
Nevertheless, on a practical level, there are things you can do to help yourself, particularly if you are weather sensitive.
Making sure your body is warm by wearing appropriate clothing, exercising, and using heat pads, could make a big difference to wellbeing.
Keep moving, as walking and stretching will prevent muscles and joints from stiffening up.
Watch your moods and try and be proactive in doing things that bring you joy.
Manual therapy like that performed by our Chiropractors and Massage Therapists can be very helpful in removing restrictions in your joints and muscles, particularly if the problem is scar tissue related.
If you wish to discuss with one our team whether we can make your body feel better this winter, please contact the clinic to arrange a free 15-minute assessment.