How many times have you said to yourself or heard someone say: “My joints hurt when it gets cold or damp”?
There is a popular belief that weather affects arthritis. But is there any proof of this?
It’s been unusually cold in Perth this Winter, and patients have asked this question numerous times. Let me shed some light on this…
Arthritis can occur as a result of injury, when cartilage is damaged. This is known as traumatic arthritis. It can also occur as a result of “wear and tear” over time. This is the most common form of arthritis, and is called osteoarthritis, aka degenerative arthritis. There are also other diseases in which the body’s immune system forms antibodies which attack the cartilage in joints. The most well-known of these types of arthritis is called rheumatoid arthritis. This shouldn’t be confused with the term “rheumatism”, which has taken on the meaning of any aches or pains related to aging, or weather.
So what about the effects of weather? Some studies have demonstrated a worsening of arthritis symptoms with low barometric pressure and high humidity. There is a theory that low pressure systems, usually associated with damp or rainy conditions, could cause joints to swell. The swelling causes stiffness of the joints, as well as pain. High humidity may have an effect through other mechanisms.
Key: Keep the Muscles Warm and Loose
We know that arthritis symptoms can be worse when the muscles around the joint aren’t strong or supple enough. Cold weather stiffens muscles, so this may also worsen arthritis symptoms. I believe this is the key here. The muscles really need to be kept warm and loose.
Each person is different in how weather can affect them. Some people say they can predict rain based on their arthritis, and others say that they feel worse during or after a storm. This simply shows that the correlation between weather and arthritis is poorly understood.
There’s no actual evidence that weather actually causes damage to joints, and there’ s no more arthritis in the population in rainy, damp climates than there is in dry, sunny climates!
So keeping all this in mind, here are a few tips to deal with arthritis:
Keep joints warm. Dress warmly in cold weather, scarves and gloves are effective; and stretch once warmed up for cold-weather activity.
If you feel your arthritis symptoms worsen in specific weather, try to avoid heavy activity at those times. Even if nobody can prove that arthritis and weather are related, if you feel that it does affect you, then listen to your body and act accordingly.