What Causes Weather-Related Joint Pain?

A good many people, particularly men and women in their latter years, maintain that changes in weather cause joint pain. There has been a notable amount of research on the subject. With that said, as of this time, there is not a specifically confirmed connection between weather changes and joint pain experienced by some people. With that duly noted, it is important to emphasize that a considerable number of older individuals maintain that they do experience heightened joint pain contemporaneously with changes in the weather.

Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, and Toni Golen, a contributor to this publication, have addressed the lack of a specific connection between weather changes and joint pain (at least a lack of a scientific connection between weather changes and joint pain that has been discovered as of this time):

Research still hasn’t confirmed a cause-and-effect link between weather and joint pain, though many people insist they can predict the weather based on such aches. It’s believed that changes in barometric pressure – which happen as weather systems change – trigger these sensations in the joints. Less air pressure surrounding the body can allow muscles, tendons, and other tissues around joints to expand. This can place pressure on joints, possibly leading to pain.

Another possibility is that you do things on cold, damp days that can worsen joint pain or stiffness, such as sit on the couch for hours watching movies. Also, since you’re expecting discomfort when the weather shifts, you may notice joint aches more than you would otherwise. To ward off weather-related joint pain, keep moving with regular exercise and stretching.

Home Remedies for Weather-Related Joint Pain

There are some home remedies that many people find helpful when they believe they are experiencing weather-related joint pain. These include:

  • When temperatures drop, take steps to keep yourself warm. Examples of what you can do in this regard are:
    • Take a warm shower
    • Soak in a warm bath
    • Dress in layers during the day
    • Use an electric blanket at night
    • Increase the heat in your home
  • Take a paraffin bath (a “bath” that utilizes paraffin wax)
  • Ask your doctor about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications

Over the long term, you can buttress yourself against joint pain when the weather changes by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Engage in a low-impact exercise like swimming, yoga, or walking
  • Avoid straining your joints
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of sleep

Cold Weather Pain Versus Hot Weather Pain

One common experience among people who indicate they experience weather-related joint pain is that they more often encounter this issue when the weather changes from hot or warm to cold. Joint pain is not as commonly experienced when the weather warms up. This reality has led some people to reach the conclusion that weather can affect joint pain, but it does so indirectly. We explain this theory regarding a relationship between a change to colder weather and joint pain some people maintain they experience when that shift occurs.

When the weather turns colder, many people – including or even particularly older women and men – spend more time inside at home. As they spend more time at home, people tend to sit and lounge around a good deal, particularly when the weather is particularly harsh. For example, they may spend more time than is their norm watching movies or binging on a particular television show. This lack of movement and sitting in one place for an extended period of time can in and of itself lead to joint pain.

Therefore, an argument can be made that because cold weather causes joint pain, many people stay at home during inclement weather. When staying at home, people tend to move and use their joints to fall less. This resulting decline in use can and oftentimes does result in stiff and even painful joints.

Exercise Can Prevent or Lessen the Extent of Weather-Related Joint Pain

We mentioned earlier that exercise has the ability to improve joint health. This includes lessening the prospect that a person will experience pain when the weather changes, particularly when we head into a spell of cold weather. Researchers at Harvard Medical Center explain:

Ignoring the pain won’t make it go away. Nor will avoiding all motions that spark discomfort. In fact, limiting your movements can weaken muscles, compounding joint trouble, and affect your posture, setting off a cascade of further problems. And while pain relievers and cold or hot packs may offer quick relief, fixes like these are merely temporary.

By contrast, the right set of exercises can be a long-lasting way to tame ankle, knee, hip, or shoulder pain. Practiced regularly, joint pain relief workouts might permit you to postpone — or even avoid — surgery on a problem joint that has been worsening for years by strengthening key supportive muscles and restoring flexibility. Over time, you may find limitations you’ve learned to work around will begin to ease. Tasks and opportunities for fun that have been weeded out of your repertoire by necessity may come back into reach, too.

Being proactive in regard to the potential for joint pain can be a crucial step in warding it off in the first instance. Moreover, even if you do experience some level of joint pain, by engaging in appropriate proactive pain prevention exercise, the level of discomfort is highly likely to be reduced when contrasted with what you historically may have experienced in this regard. If you continue to have joint pain, including when the weather changes, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can provide you with some information and guidance in regard to pain that seems to stem from weather changes. As mentioned previously, your primary care physician might be able to recommend a medication – either prescription or over the country – that can provide you real relief from weather-related joint pain. In addition, if you do intend to embark on some sort of new fitness or exercise program to aid in preventing or reducing joint pain, discuss your plan with your doctor as well.