Many people with joint pain insist that weather causes flare-ups; they say that they can predict the weather by symptoms in their joints. Though many sufferers swear that their pain increases in cold, snowy, damp and rainy weather, studies show that it is actually the barometric pressure changes that accompany these weather conditions that cause the discomfort.
Barometric pressure, which is the weight of the surrounding atmosphere, typically drops prior to bad weather rolling in. Less air pressure in contact with our bodies lets tissues expand, putting pressure on the joints. This is why our feet swell on plane flights.
Arthritis is joint inflammation causing pain, stiffness and swelling. Inflammation is a normal reaction to illness or injury, but chronic inflammation leads to damage of the tissues. Joints are where two or more bones covered with spongy cartilage meet. Along with muscles and tendons, the joints make movement possible. But movement is difficult when pain and stiffness from inflammation occurs.
Arthritis is so common that estimates suggest one in every three Americans have some type of joint pain. Sufferers seemed to be more symptomatic in conditions of high humidity and high pressure, while those in warmer, drier climates have less pain.
While there are hundreds of arthritis varieties, the two most common are osteoarthritis (when the cartilage over bone ends erodes) and rheumatoid (where the immune system mistakes the body for a foreign invader and attacks itself).
When air pressure drops in cold weather, tissues in the body expand to fill the space. When tissue is already inflamed, the additional swelling causes more pain. We stay indoors and exercise less whereas constant movement assists in keeping arthritis pain at bay. The lack of activity decreases the flow of oxygen and nutrients needed by our joints.
Additionally, studies have shown that cold weather affects our sympathetic nervous system. When it’s cold outside, these nerves constrict or cause a narrowing of blood vessels in our arms and legs to maintain our core temperature and minimize the loss of heat. Unfortunately, the heightened nerve activity surrounding joints may cause an increase in joint pain.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakes your own body as a foreign invader and attacks it. The intensity varies from mild to very disabling and can sometimes result in death. It can affect only the skin or vital organs including the lungs, kidneys, heart and brain. In Lupus, connective tissue in the joints and muscles may become inflamed.
The disorder is linked to cold weather in that some lupus sufferers develop Raynaud’s syndrome – a condition where small blood vessels contract in the skin preventing blood from getting to the hands and feet in cold temperatures. Skin appears bluish and can be quite painful. Nails may become brittle with longitudinal ridges. Gloves and protective garments protect against this phenomenon.
Though osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are confused because of name similarity, they are two very different conditions. Similarity between the two is only the strategy for coping with a chronic problem.
Osteoporosis is a disorder where the bones demineralize and become less dense, making them vulnerable to fracture. Risks include a family history, use of certain medications like prednisone, low calcium intake and abuse of smoking and alcohol.
Individuals benefit from physical therapy and rehabilitation with stretching, swimming, tai chi and low stress yoga to help build joint-supporting muscles and increased range of motion. While cold does not affect osteoporosis directly, indirectly there is a connection in that people remaining indoors may exercise and stretch less.