Cold weather and effects on arthritis
Sunday, July 14, 2013, 3:27 PM -
How many of you have said 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?
We should start with a definition of arthritis. It is a condition in which there is a loss of cartilage in the joint. It 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. 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.
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.
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.
But there's no 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 there goes your excuse for buying that condo in Arizona!
So keeping all this in mind, here are a few tips to deal with arthritis:
- Keep joints warm. Dress warmly in cold weather, 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 they are for you, you should act accordingly.
- Speak to your doctor about getting a specific diagnosis of arthritis, if that hasn't already been done. There are various non-medicinal treatments like glucosamine, physiotherapy, acupuncture and bracing that can be helpful. Of course, medications like anti-inflammatories or acetaminophen, cortisone injections, and a relatively newer class of injections known as viscosupplements can also help.