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Do changes in weather patterns worsen pain?

“My knees can always tell when it’s going to rain.”

Did you grow up with parents or grandparents that said things like this?

It might not have been a complete wive’s tale — there does seem to be a link between changes in weather and chronic pain.

Scientists don’t agree on exactly how it may occur, but there is anecdotal evidence that leads us to think achy joints and rainy days are related.

According to a study that explored the link between chronic pain and humid, windy days with low atmospheric pressure, 75% of people with long-term pain conditions believe weather affects their pain.

The study then showed that on damp and windy days with low pressure, the chances of participants experiencing more pain compared to an average day was around 20%.

How weather may affect joints

Scientists have done many studies on joint pain and weather over the years, but so far, none can say for sure what the connection is. 

Still, there are a few theories about the relationship. One is that people with joint pain, especially arthritis, may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. How? It could be that when the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint is worn away, nerves in the exposed bones might pick up on changes in pressure.

Another theory: Changes in barometric pressure may make your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue expand and contract, and that can create pain in joints affected by arthritis. Low temperatures can also make the fluid inside joints thicker, so they feel stiffer.

You might also feel more pain when the weather keeps you from moving around as much as you typically do. People tend to stay indoors and lounge around more when it’s cold and rainy outside, and inactive joints can get stiff and painful.

What kind of weather?

Several studies have tried to pinpoint the kind of weather changes that affect joint pain, but the findings are all over the map.

In one survey of 200 people with osteoarthritis in their knee, researchers found that every 10-degree drop in temperature — as well as low barometric pressure –corresponded to a rise in arthritis pain. More recently, however, a Dutch study of 222 people with osteoarthritis of the hip found that over 2 years, people said their pain and stiffness got worse with rising barometric pressure and humidity.

Another group of researchers took a look at medical records of more than 11 million Medicare visits and matched dates to local weather reports. They didn’t see any link between weather changes and joint pain at all. Two recent Australian studies — one on knee pain and one on lower back pain — also found no connection to weather change.

But even though the science isn’t clear, flare-ups when the weather turns are very real for many people with joint pain. Some people’s bodies may just be more sensitive to changes in the weather. Many people say they find relief in warmer climates, but again, there’s no scientific proof that it will ease your aches.

Does rain cause you pain?

Again, it really can depend on the person. If you find that weather changes seem to aggravate any chronic pain you experience, here are some ways to ease or relieve joint pain.

  • Stay limber. Stretching regularly and doing yoga are great ways to increase flexibility and maintain joint health. Building muscle may also help. The more muscle you use during physical activity, the better able those muscles are to support your joints.
  • Do water exercises. Working out in a warm pool is especially good for loosening stiff muscles, strengthening joints, building muscle strength, and easing discomfort. Water provides resistance while lifting the weight from aching joints.
  • Get regular chiropractic care. Spinal adjustments, or therapeutic movement of the spine, have been shown to alleviate pain in the neck, upper back, lower back, and extremities. Making chiropractic a regular part of your life can help lessen flare-ups of pain, no matter their cause!

When you’re ready to give chiropractic care a try, we’d love to help keep you out of pain! If you’re in the Charlotte area, click here to schedule an appointment at your local Keith Clinic Estramonte Chiropractic office.