The effect of cold weather on arthritis is a topic that is still up for debate. It’s been established that cold weather (or sometimes rainy weather) does change how arthritic joints feel. You will also hear similar stories from those who have old injuries such as breaks. In fact, as I am typing this article, I’m experiencing that exact scenario in my left hand. The office is cold, and a 20-year-old metacarpal break doesn’t want to leave the past in the past. But when you look up the reason behind these weather-related aches and pains, you’ll find that the scientific community is still wearing its thinking cap.
Arthritis And Weather
According to Robert H. Shmerling, MD, of Harvard, “There are many potential factors — humidity, temperature, precipitation, and barometric pressure among them. Even if we could precisely identify what about weather affects arthritis pain and stiffness, we’re still not sure why — biologically speaking — weather should have any impact on joint symptoms.”
Previous studies have yielded conflicting results. However, two newer European studies may be giving us a clue. A two-year Dutch study seemed to show that osteoarthritis was worsened by higher humidity and barometric pressure. A similar more extensive study of Europeans from six different countries appeared to link higher humidity with increased pain, especially when paired with cold weather.
Robert Jamison, Professor at the Harvard Medical School and chief psychologist at the Pain Management Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Chestnut Hill, said “67.9 percent of the people surveyed responded that they were sure changes in the weather had an effect on their pain. Most of the patients reported that they can feel a change in their pain before rain or cold weather occur,”
So while no one has all the answers, medical science is getting a little closer to figuring out what might be causing this phenomenon.
Preventing Arthritis Pain Through Hydration
One way to prevent arthritis pain in cold weather is to make sure you are well hydrated. This may come as a surprise since it is not an intuitive way to combat the cold. But being dehydrated can make your arthritis pain worse.
A study in 2016 showed that participants in the cold pressor test (CPT) had increased perception of pain when they were even just slightly dehydrated. For the CPT, participants were asked to submerge their feet in cold water and rate their level of pain. Their pain levels were also monitored physiologically by the measurement of heart rate and blood flow.
What the study found was that mild dehydration modifies the cerebrovascular response to the CPT. This, in turn, increases the perceived pain. So even if you’re cold, you may want to lay off the coffee and pick up a bottle of water instead.
Preventing Arthritis Pain By Bundling Up
Another way to help prevent arthritis pain is to bundle up. Staying warm during the transition from inside to outside will help relax your muscles and also reduce any sudden changes in the temperature or pressure of joints.
Regular cold-weather clothes such as hats and gloves are fine, but sometimes you need extra layers to block out the chill. Long underwear can be an option, or you can try something as simple as putting on a more fitted shirt underneath your winter sweater.
For more targeted warmth and support, you can try warmers made specifically for certain body parts. Angora shoulder warmers are light, breathable, and seven times warmer than wool. Angora allows your skin to breathe while absorbing moisture. These warmers maintain a steady temperature at the surface of the skin without adding bulk.
So while the mystery of the connection between weather and arthritis pain has yet to be solved entirely, in the meantime, ILA is happy to provide options to help keep you warm.