Over two thirds of people with joint disorders think their pain is caused by the weather. Researchers say this may not be as wacky as it sounds.
Medical studies related to the weather are tricky to carry out. You can’t control for weather like you can for other variables, so trying to create consistent controlled studies is challenging. It’s also difficult to pin down exactly which aspect of the weather may be causing or inducing pain, since there’s never just one weather condition present at a time. These limitations mean that the verdict on weather-induced joint pain isn’t yet clear. However, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and medical theories about why this may happen.
Today, we’ll go over these theories and how you can get relief from joint pain, rain or shine.
Problematic Weather Conditions for Joint Pain
Whenever it’s cold, rainy or humid, your joint pain may flare up. Of course, these weather conditions are often linked and difficult to tease out. However, we can categorize them into four categories of possible causes:
- Low barometric pressure: This is the air pressure, or the weight of the air above us. Theories suggest low barometric pressure can swell up joints.
- Low temperatures: Cold temperature is also often cited for joint pain. Changes in temperature may affect your joint fluids in particular.
- High humidity/precipitation: Humidity and precipitation, especially rain, is commonly cited as well.
- Changes in conditions: Some researchers also think that changes are to blame, not the conditions themselves.
Let’s take a look at how these four weather conditions may affect your joints on a medical level.
Theories On Why Your Joints Hurt as the Weather Changes
1. Barometric pressure theory
Scientists believe that your joint fluids are sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. This means that when it changes, your tendons, muscles and tissues expand or contract, causing pain.
Specifically, they think when barometric pressure is low, your joint fluids receive less pressure and thus swell and become inflamed. With the inflammation of fluids, your muscles are subsequently affected. Since low barometric pressure often occurs before a storm, many patients think that their joint pain predicts the weather.
2. Temperature theory
Patients also report joint pain with colder temperatures. Again, the key here is the joint fluids. With lower temperatures, researchers think your fluids become “thicker” and less dynamic. This makes your joints feel stiffer and less flexible than usual. In particular, sudden low temperatures may cause this feeling of sluggish joints.
3. Humidity/precipitation theory
Humidity and precipitation are another common theory regarding joint pain. It’s difficult to separate conditions, as precipitation often involves low barometric pressure, too. However, anecdotal evidence is strong regarding patients reporting pain when it’s rainy outside.
4. Exposure to change theory
Another theory posits that joints hurt during weather changes simply because joints are more exposed. With joint wear-and-tear, fluids and nerves are run down and more exposed than usual. This means that it makes it difficult for them to respond to changes quickly and effectively. In other words, any changes in weather cause pain because of the delayed response from musculoskeletal exposure.
5. Blood flow theory
Some research also suggests that in colder weather, your body tries to conserve heat by supplying the most critical organs, such as the heart and lungs. This means that other areas of the body, especially your extremes — which could affect joints in your legs, knees and hands — will see more limited blood flow and potential stiffness and pain.
6. Mood theory
There’s also a psychological explanation that rainy days are linked to bad moods, which may make you more receptive to feeling pain. Bad weather like cold temperatures and rainy days could affect your pain response simply from the way it affects your mood.
7. Inactivity theory
Last but not least, the most common theory is that during bad weather such as rain or cold, people stay indoors and aren’t as active. This inactivity causes their joints to become stiff and painful because of lack of movement.
Several studies support this theory, including a recent study that linked Google search terms about joint pain. Their theory is that extreme weather, whether hot or cold, makes people stay indoors.
How to Relieve Weather-Induced Joint Pain
While there’s still much to study regarding weather-induced joint pain, the truth is that people continue to associate cold, rainy days with pain. Because this effect is real in arthritis patients, it’s important to talk about how you can relieve weather-induced joint pain and stay comfortable during these days.
Here are some preventative strategies to stay pain-free:
- Stay warm. You can promote blood flow by keeping your body warm and comfortable. Be sure to wear socks and gloves, and use lined jackets when going outside. You can also consider taking a warm bath using Epsom salts, or use a hot water bottle at night.
- Stay active. Keep moving! Even on rainy days, try to find a way to move your joints and keep them from becoming stiff or tense. You can do home stretches or even yoga. Some arthritis patients even do swimming sports for low-impact aerobic exercise.
- Get good rest. Make sure that you’re sleeping well at night. Create a sleep-friendly routine that involves slowing down before bed. Limit screen time and listen to relaxing music. Get good rest to help your joint pain stay away.
- Follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Your diet can heavily impact your joints. To avoid weather-induced joint pain, make sure you’re not causing pain through your food intake. Cut out processed foods and go for fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and olive oil.
Whatever the cause, joint pain is no fun for anyone. If your joints hurt as the weather changes, be sure to follow our tips for reducing pain so you can stay comfortable every day of the year.
If you continue to experience joint pain, you may also consider seeing a professional chiropractic clinic to get a customized care plan for your joint pain. A chiropractor can give you pain-relieving adjustments, as well as a diet, exercise and supplementation program to prevent pain at home.
Dr. Brent Wells is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998. He became passionate about being in the chiropractic field after his own experiences with hurried, unprofessional healthcare providers. The goal for Dr. Wells is to treat his patients with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life through his professional treatment.