Can you tell that bad weather is coming based on how your body feels? Do you get achy and stiff when it’s cold and raining?
You’re not imagining things. Cold weather — especially cold and damp weather — can definitely have an effect on your joints. And if your joints are already damaged, such as from arthritis or some kind of trauma, it can make you feel even more like curling up in bed.
All joints have a lubricant called synovial fluid inside, which keeps the joints moving more freely. When it’s cold, that fluid thickens, causing the joints to become stiffer and harder to move, says Dr. Robert Pinto, a chiropractor with Pinto Chiropractic & Rehabilitation in Williamsburg.
When it’s cold and damp, barometric pressure might be to blame for the stiffness and pain.
Cold, damp, rainy weather is associated with lower barometric pressure — a measure that refers to the weight of the surrounding air. Lower outside pressure allows the joint to swell more than it does when there is higher outside pressure.
When the joint swells, it irritates the nerve receptors in the soft tissue surrounding the joint. The result: Pain.
Meanwhile, the cold constricts the blood vessels in the arms and legs, causing less blood to flow to them. Less blood means less ability for the joints to get rid of the swelling.
“It’s one thing piled on another, and they all relate to each other,” Pinto says. “It happens to everyone to a certain degree, but it’s a real problem for people with arthritis or who’ve had joint trauma.”
So if the weather is working against you, what can be done? Staying warm always helps.
If you’re going to be outside, warm up your muscles inside first by stretching or jogging in place, and always wear protective clothing against the cold. Moving around is important — it helps pump inflammation out of the tissue, helping joints move more freely.
Moving also stimulates receptors in the joints that send messages to the brain, and that can negate the pain as well. So if it snows, go on out and play or go sledding — just keep moving!
For someone with arthritis or who has joint issues from an injury or other trauma, a chiropractor can help work to mobilize the joint to make it move more freely. Strengthening and stabilizing the joint is important to keep it mobile and reduce swelling.
As for those with weather-related pain, know that it’s only temporary. Once the weather is better, your joints should return to normal.
“That’s why you genuinely feel good when it’s nice outside,” Pinto says.