Weather Forecast: Just ask your joints

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Remember when quirky Aunt Sally used to say, “My knees are hurting, must be a storm coming”?? In our adult lives, we now might relate to her wives’ tale. There may actually be truth to her statement. When barometric pressure changes in our body, weather forecasting becomes our new super power. Feeling increased pain before the weather changes is actually quite common in people with arthritis and chronic pain. Knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists are the popular trouble zones. When mother nature cries, so too can our joints.  

There are a couple theories that might explain this. Barometric pressure (air pressure) seems to be the common denominator. This is the weight of the atmosphere around us. Think of what happens to the body when you go up on an airplane.  You feel different sensations due to the change of air pressure. Our joints are like a balloon. High pressure makes the joint push against the body and the tissues aren’t able to expand. When this pressure drops, which is what happens before rain, hail, or snow, there is less air and pressure on the body. This causes the tissues to start to expand. We feel this pressure sensation as the tissues put pressure on the joints. The cold weather causes our muscles, ligaments, and tendons to stiffen up. Synovium is the lining of our joints which have nerves at their ends. The nerves become especially sensitive post-surgery, if you have arthritis or fibromyalgia, or if you have had an injury. Think back to the plane. Just like in the airplane, where the pressure in cabin is less, this can result in swollen feet.

Another theory is that the change in humidity and temperature might affect the pressure in our brain. From this, our pain receptors are affected and not doing their blocking job. This aligns with the theory that people with migraines experience weather related headaches.

This does not mean that people with this pressure meter of pain can be alleviated by living in an ideal climate. Even the most minute changes can affect someone. Your body adapts wherever it goes. Warmth can help joint pain, so when it is cold dressing in layers and using a heating pad can be helpful. Loosen up those joints through exercise, because the combination of stiff and cold joints, only worsens the problem. The winter month is not a time to stay cooped up. Those joints need blood flow to ward off pain.

Fortunately, weather related pain is temporary. It comes and goes. We aren’t mother nature, so the weather is not in our control. How we manage our pain is in our control. Taking an Epson salt bath can help or wearing compression socks are two easy options. Dressing in layers and keeping warm can also help and using a heating pad or electric blanket can assist with this. Most people find joint pain relief in warmer climates, so we want to replicate that warmth to the joints. Sitting in a sauna or hot tub can also be a good way to help relieve joint pain if in a cold environment. The key is not to allow your body to be shocked with temperature or pressure changes, which means packing or being prepared. Set yourself up for a better flight or better experience, and the quality of your adventure will be much improved.

https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/42/8/955/1774101

https://www.medicinenet.com/arthritis_-_whether_weather_affects_arthritis/views.htm

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Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has an M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, is a current candidate for her Doctorate in Health & Human Performance, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor.