Never doubt the weather forecasting skills of Grandma’s knees. When she said her aching joints could predict the next snowstorm, it turns out she was right. But it’s not because she’s a mystic, says David Borenstein, MD, FACP, FACR, rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center. Many doctors and researchers now see the science behind Nana’s magic.
“The thing that affects people most,” Borenstein says, “is barometric pressure.”
Your joints, your barometer
Barometric changes increase or reduce the weight of air on the earth—and, thus, on us humans who live here. One theory has it that this affects the bones, joints and other parts of the body, and may trigger joint pain or headaches for many people.
When the barometric pressure drops before a weather change, it reduces the force on the sensitive tissues that surround our joints. This gives them space to expand, which can create joint pressure and cause pain, says Robert Newlin Jamison, PhD, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School, and a researcher who’s studied weather effects on chronic pain patients. “It’s very microscopic and we can hardly notice, except that we have these sensations.”
Jamison, who published his findings in the journal Pain, looked for an association between weather and chronic pain in different four cities. Among all people interviewed, “Two-thirds said they were pretty sure that weather seems to affect their pain,” he said, in an article in WebMD.com. “Most of them reported that they could actually feel the changes even before the weather changed. In other words, they could feel some increased pain the day before the storm comes.”
What to do. How to find relief
When the weather changes, anybody may feel the effects. And some people with arthritis are especially vulnerable, and may need to increase their pain medications, Dr. Borenstein says. But you can do other things as well to prevent pain and ease discomfort.
Warm it up. Lay on the Layers.
These tips from the National Institutes of Health show that a little common sense goes a long way:
• Keep your home well heated, and identify and remedy drafty areas.
• Before you get in, warm up your car.
• Don’t hesitate to add a scarf or sweater as the temperature drops.
• Consider sleeping under an electric blanket.
• (And then, there’s our personal favorite)—warm up your clothes in the dryer before you put them on!
Finally, when you’re in a pain cycle, apply a heating pad to your joints. “Heat lets muscles relax, so it’s a soothing way of helping with pain,” Jamison says.
Get loose before you go out.
Before heading out into the cold or wet, loosen up those stiff spots with some stretching or mild exercise. The activity will generate some heat and warm joints to help you cope better and make you more limber.
Manage your mood.
Sometimes easier said than done, the rewards of a better outlook are worth the work. Depression or anxiety are the often the sidekicks to chronic pain. But we know the brain does better with discomfort when we’re feeling better about ourselves. Distractions and having things to look forward to are wonderful palliatives, as is staying active and keeping yourself occupied.
Sleep yourself way to success
Sleep is the mind’s and body’s repair and restoration zone. We need it to reset our wellbeing. Conditions such as fibro myalgia tend to worsen and cause more suffering when we can’t get enough deep sleep. So, do whatever you need to improve your sleep hygiene. Maintain regular bedtimes, shut down activities and wind down earlier. And make sure your bedroom is a conducive sleep environment.
This too shall pass. This type of pain is temporary.
Good news. Weather-related pain “isn’t a permanent change. It’s short-lived” Borenstein says.
What’s more, we often become accustomed to barometric fluctuations. “The body is acclimating to the change and will move fluid from the joint into the circulation, so the patient feels less stiff and less achy. These are physiological changes that occur in relationship to these barometric changes, and they will in fact resolve.”
“That knowledge — knowing what’s happening — can be reassuring to people who experience these aches because we really can’t do anything about the weather. Hopefully, they realize that the pain will go away.”
Chiropractors: A drug–free approach to reduce or eliminate pain.
By focusing on musculoskeletal system and nervous system disorders, chiropractors promote overall health and increase mobility and function. Although we’re known for our expertise in spinal manipulation, and hands-on care, we’re also trained to provide and recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, and offer and nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling. From backs, to arms and legs, to headaches, we treat and consider the whole body.