Many of us have experienced this over our lives, whether it is a previous injury feeling a bit ‘niggly’ over winter, or an exacerbation of a current pain. Pain over the winter months can seem more debilitating due to the cold, wet weather and early nights – but why is this?
Well – it seems that the jury is still out, although we do have some idea as to what is going on in our joints over the darkest part of the year.
Joint pain and stiffness in cold weather has been commonly observed across different age groups and societies. In particular, people with joint speciﬁc complaints such as arthritis – or prior surgical procedures seem to attribute the weather changes to an increased level of pain.
The current consensus in the scientiﬁc community seems to indicate that the fall in temperature and barometric pressure (literally – the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us) causes tissue expansion in and around joints – increasing the pressure on them and therefore causing discomfort and pain.
These seasonal changes also seem to affect the elderly population more. An Australasian study found that patients with osteoarthritis reported weather-sensitive pain more than patients with other joint problems. It was suggested that the colder weather also affects mood, resulting in a different, perhaps more pronounced, perception of pain.
A UK study on weather related joint pain also supported these ﬁndings, stating that negative mood is associated with a higher level of pain in people with arthritis and joint pain – and that wet and dour weather conditions may adversely affect mood and heighten the patients perception of their pain.
Interestingly – the same study found that women with joint pain and anxious people are more likely to consider themselves as weather-sensitive. It would seem the concept that the drop in air pressure combined with temperature seems to negatively affect joint pain, although different psychological reasons have also been proposed.
So what is the take home point here?
Well in simple terms – wrap up! If you ﬁnd that you tend to struggle more in winter with joint pain there are measures you can take to alleviate this. Warm water exercises for peripheral joint pain (hands, wrists, foot and ankle etc) can help with range of motion and reduction of pain. Seeing your osteopath for joint pain management may help and a physiotherapist can advise on pain-speciﬁc exercises to manage your symptoms over the winter.
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