The idea that pain and weather are linked can be traced back more than 2000 years to one of history’s most famous physicians, Hippocrates. Today, climate still has a reputation for wreaking havoc on aging bodies, and studies reveal that arthritis pain due to weather is reported by the majority of people with joint conditions.
How are Arthritis and Weather Linked?
Exactly how weather influences arthritis pain is up for debate. Research into how the two relate has provided conflicting results. Some of the most popular theories include:
- Temperature: Sudden onset of cold weather signals worsened arthritis pain for many living with the condition. Muscles and tendons tend to contract and become less flexible in the cold, leading to stiffness in the joints they support. Low temperature may also thicken joint fluid, resulting in increased pain and stiffness.
- Pressure: If you’ve ever heard a meteorologist’s report, you know that lower atmospheric pressure is associated with cooler weather. A 2013 study linked increased inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis with low pressure weather events. It’s possible that low pressure might allow joints to swell more easily or cause changes in the nerves that send pain signals.
- Humidity and Precipitation: For some arthritis sufferers, joint pain seems to worsen on days that are rainy or humid. This may be due to changes in temperature and pressure, since rain often occurs during low pressure systems. Cold temperatures also tend to feel more bone-chilling on humid days.
What can you do to manage arthritis pain?
You might feel like relocating is the only way to deal with weather sensitivity. But it’s almost impossible to find a climate that never experiences changes in temperature, pressure, or humidity. Instead, these steps can help you better manage arthritis pain due to weather.
We all know that drinking water is a necessity. But age-related changes make older people less likely to feel thirsty, making them prone to dehydration. On top of causing problems like headache and weakness, being dehydrated may also affect your pain. In one recent study, dehydration increased pain felt by test subjects exposed to cold water.
Besides January exercise inspired by New Year’s resolutions, most of us are less likely to be physically active during the winter months. But periods of inactivity end up making you more likely to experience pain, stiffness and injury when you finally do get moving. Try signing up for fitness classes or take advantage of at-home workouts to reap the benefits of physical activity even when it’s cold outside.
3. Vitamin D
Cooler temperatures often mean lower levels of vitamin D, which has been associated with increased arthritic pain. If you live above the 37th parallel, your skin probably only makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun during summer. Luckily, there are other ways to make sure you’re getting enough of the sunshine vitamin year-round.
Vitamin D can be stored in the body, which means making the effort to spend a bit of time in the summer sunshine each day may help carry you through at least some of the cooler months. This may not be effective for people with darker skin or older adults, who tend to make less vitamin D than younger people and those with lighter skin.
Taking supplements is an easy way to make sure you get enough vitamin D throughout the year.
Some foods contain vitamin D, but it’s difficult to get enough from food alone. The best sources include seafood like wild caught salmon and tuna, and beverages like milk and orange juice that may have added vitamin D.
Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved arthritis symptoms in many studies. While seafood lovers might be getting enough anti-inflammatory omega-3s in their diets, this isn’t true for most Americans. Two servings per week of fatty fish like salmon, herring or mackerel will help to up your omega-3 intake, but you can also try adding flaxseed oil, chia seeds, or omega-3 supplements to your diet.
Beyond the relaxing effects of treating yourself to a massage, spending time with an RMT can help reduce arthritis pain. Choose a therapist who has experience working with arthritis, and avoid going when you’re experiencing increased pain or inflammation.
6. Heat therapy
Use heating pads or a hot bath to warm your body up during the cooler months. This works especially well as an incentive after working out or coming in from the cold. If you’re hoping to get in some physical activity on days when you’re feeling especially stiff, gentle swimming or water aerobics can help get you moving while you warm your joints.
7. Lift your mood
Arthritis pain isn’t in your head, but psychological well-being can influence how we experience chronic pain. Colder temperatures and shorter days of winter can have a negative effect on outlook and mood, making pain seem more intense or all-encompassing. Any time you’re experiencing increased arthritis pain, practice self care by setting aside time to focus on relaxation or personal hobbies.
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DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.