Understanding How the Weather Impacts Joints and Movement

When it comes to achy joints, the phrase “feeling under the weather” may actually have validity. Studies have shown a link between arthritis sufferers and weather changes, particularly in the case of oncoming storms that influence barometric pressure. So that aunt or uncle everyone seems to have who predicts rain based on a feeling or twinge in their knee or elbow may actually be right.

Going back 2,400 years, Hippocrates noted a link between illnesses and changes in seasons. More recently, studies have linked pain sensitivities to weather in sufferers of scar pains, headaches, osteoarthritis, low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions.

The Effect of Falling Barometric Pressure

Scientists theorize that a trigger of pain related to weather changes may be falling barometric pressure. This change in pressure that precedes storms may alter the pressure inside joints.

The alteration of barometric pressure and temperature may increase stiffness in the joints and trigger subtle movements that may stimulate nerve cells, causing pain, wrote Dr. Robert Jamison, in an International Association for the Study of Pain newsletter.

Because tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissue are of various densities, cold and damp conditions may expand or contract them in different ways, Jamison wrote. In particular, the change of barometric pressure can throw off the equilibrium in body pressure, sensitizing nerve endings and accounting for an increase in pain from changes in temperature or humidity.

Virginia Weather Doesn’t Help

Joint Pain in Cold WeatherTidewater Virginia can have sharp changes in weather — sometimes in the same day. So what are some things you can do to help stay pain-free? The National Institute of Health advises staying warm.

“Bundle up from head to toe in several layers, preheat the car before getting into it and make sure your home or apartment is kept warm,” said Dr. Mark Gourley of the National Institute of Health on the organization’s website. Other advice from Gourley included:

—Sleeping under an electric blanket;

—Put clothing in the dryer to get them warm before dressing;

—Drink warm or hot drinks such as coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

Exercise is a Key

Keep moving. Before going out in cold weather, exercise the affected joints.

Another tip from Gourley is to exercise. He cites a year-round exercise program as helping ease joint pain. Exercise loosens stiff joints and throttles back winter weight gain that stresses joints already prone to pain.

The Role of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can also help.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) points out that physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving motion in people’s lives.

Physical therapy is an evidence-based and conservative treatment approach for those affected by joint pain, according to the APTA.

The physical therapists at Tidewater Physical Therapy Inc. hold Direct Access Certification through the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy allowing them to evaluate and treat patients without a prescription. As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan. To make your own appointment, find a clinic near you.