‘Tis the Season of Joint Pain: Does Arthritis Really Worsen in Winter?

Winter is right around the corner. As some people anticipate the holidays, others dread the joint and muscle pain that comes with the season. Lots of people with arthritis complain their conditions worsen during the cold season. Some even anticipate when a storm is coming because their knees start to hurt. But does science support the connection between joint pain and the weather?

The Relationship Between Arthritis and Weather

The academe has done countless research exploring the relationship between these two factors. Although plenty of anecdotal data suggest the arthritis-weather connection, many still fail to provide conclusive evidence. Part of the problem is the studies focus only on a small sample size, which isn’t enough to confirm the association.

Still, plenty of theories explain the joint pain-weather relationship. An early study concluded that joint sensitivity increases with the changes in barometric pressure, or the pressure within the Earth’s atmosphere. A decrease in air pressure usually indicates incoming rain or storm.

As the study shows, seniors with arthritis tend to be more sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. This is because the cartilage that cushions the two bones in a joint wears away as you age. So the bones and nerves become more exposed to friction and changes in pressure.

Another possible reason is that barometric pressure changes cause muscles, tendons, and tissues to expand and contract. The contraction and expansion may create pain in the joints. Also, the fluid inside the knees may feel thicker and the ligament may be less flexible because of the cold temperature, so the joints feel stiffer.

Physical therapist Linda Scholl explains bad posture and lack of physical activity may also worsen joint and muscle pains during the cold season.

But in a recent analysis of Medicare data, the researchers found no relationship between rainfall and joint pain, based on a record of outpatient visits from 2008 to 2012.

The inconsistent results only mean that further research is necessary to prove a real correlation between the two. Still, joint ache flare-ups during winter remain a problem for some people with arthritis. In such cases, you can ease the pain with several remedies.

Easing Weather-Related Joint Pain

elbow joint pain

  1. Keep yourself warm. Heat lubricates joints and relaxes muscles. A warm compress may help reduce swelling and relieve joint pain. Stay bundled up in thick clothes and blankets, especially on the affected areas of the body.
  2. Consider manual therapy. Chiropractic treatment for relief, physical therapy, and osteopathy are popular remedies for arthritic pain.  Veritas Health says manual therapies help relieve joint aches, especially if the pain interferes with your daily activities.
  3. Exercise regularly. Some people may be wary of exercising during the cold season since it may only cause arthritis flare-ups. But experts from Harvard Health confirm that physical activity is good for people with arthritis. Exercise improves strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the affected joint. Harvard Health recommends walking, cycling, and swimming for those suffering from frequent joint pains.

The best course of action is to consult your doctor when you feel your joint aches are worse than usual. This way, you’ll get an accurate examination of your condition, and you’ll know how to treat it properly.

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