If your grandmother’s ability to predict an afternoon storm on a sunny morning seemed almost psychic when you were a child, then it might interest you to learn that it’s more than simple superstition. Particular joint pain is sensitive to weather conditions, especially changes in weather, such as temperature, pressure, and humidity. Cold weather affects joint pain the most, and arthritic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the most sensitive to environmental changes. Cold weather joint pain affects many people, and thankfully there is a cure.
While some people believe that it’s just the drop in barometric pressure of an oncoming storm that makes joint pain and general fatigue worse, it’s more often the increase in humidity that leads to the pain-induced herald effect, in addition to the pressure and temperature changes.
Changing Seasons Effect Cold Weather Joint Pain?
Weather is a combination of different environmental factors, especially in the atmosphere. Not all of these factors are relevant to pain, especially joint pain. But three significant weather changes seem to affect pain the most:
- Cold. Temperature drops, meaning a drastic change from a comparatively hot to a cooler temperature, might have a more significant adverse effect on chronic pain than a continuously cold temperature. Research also indicates that cold temperatures encourage the body to conserve heat by focusing on internal organs – reducing blood flow to the limbs and increasing joint pain.
- Pressure. Most people erroneously assume that greater pressure means more joint pain, but the opposite is true. Barometric pressure, or the weight of the atmosphere, drops just before a storm approaches—the faster and more severe the drop, the harsher the oncoming storm. The theory goes that good weather days help reduce joint pain through that mild, ambient atmospheric pressure. In contrast, bad weather days can result in significant pain due to changes in blood circulation throughout the body or nerve sensitivity.
- Humidity. While cooler temperatures and atmospheric pressure can understandably impact blood circulation and nerve functioning, humidity correlates the most with joint pain. Rainy days, incredibly cool rainy days, tend to increase pain symptoms more than any other weather change dramatically.
One of the difficulties in addressing this topic is that there needs to be more research beyond surveys and patient testimonies. People with arthritic pain tend to report increased pain on rainy, cold days or before a storm. We also know that there are several different reasons why this may occur.
Methods for Easing Cold Weather Joint Pain
But we must determine which of these reasons should be counted as real culprits and to what degree. More research is needed to understand how weather changes affect the body’s perception of pain, especially in the joints.
That being said, you can still do a few things to remedy joint pain on bad days, especially when the weather is taking a turn for the worse.
Warm Blankets and a Cup of Cocoa
Creature comforts can go a long way and should always be addressed. Instead of just tucking yourself in, consider using an electric blanket to add warmth, especially around the more painful areas of the body. Simply keeping warm and dry during bad weather days can help reduce joint pain.
Crank up the heat at home, or use a dehumidifier or an air filter to keep moisture out of the air. Gloves and socks can also help keep your body heat from escaping. Alternatively, use heating pads on sore spots.
Exercise to Keep Warm
While it might be the last thing on your mind on a bad pain day, gentle exercise can significantly help reduce pain signals and release painkilling endorphins. Regular exercise can also help you reduce pain by strengthening the supportive muscles around your joints, improving your bone density, improving joint health, and helping you maintain healthier body weight.
The keyword here is gentle exercise—load management matters. Avoid jumping into a strenuous activity, or at least ramp up to something heavy with frequent warmups. Use dynamic stretches – such as arm swings and hip circles – instead of static stretches and get your steps in to increase your core temperature and blood flow.
NSAIDs like ibuprofen and other over-the-counter painkillers can help take the edge off sudden spikes in pain and enable a greater degree of activity over a bad weather period. Consider using an over-the-counter painkiller to dull an acute pain episode and encourage moderate physical activity.
Winter Blues and Pain Perception
The mind plays a more significant role in pain management and perception than most expect. Certain mood states and emotions can dull pain – and others can make the pain much worse.
Low mood, especially chronic low mood (such as depression), can increase pain perception and lower pain tolerance. If you tend to feel down over the colder months, especially around the holidays, your pain levels might worsen despite no change in your condition or management techniques.
Working to improve your mood in the long term might do more to help with your pain, in these cases, than short-term pain relief. Consider picking up healthy stress management habits and coping skills for the winter blues – or in cases of seasonal depression, talk to a counselor or therapist about professional mental treatment.
Professional Pain Management for Cold Weather Joint Pain
Staying dry, staying warm, staying healthy, and improving your circulation are just a few ways to help address increased joint pain over the winter months. But if your pain is recurring, chronic, or severe and doesn’t respond well to home methods, it may be time to seek professional pain management.
A pain management clinic can put you in touch with several different specialists who can better determine why and how your pain condition responds to environmental stressors, from holiday stress to a drop in temperature and activity, and create a personalized treatment plan that combines different modalities – such as physical therapy, heat therapy, and medication – to help you manage your joint pain symptoms, no matter how severe they are.