Many people with arthritis dread the cooler months. Some say they can even predict the temperature change simply by the increase in swelling and pain in their joints. But is there any truth to this idea that stiff and sore joints flare up when temperatures fall? And if so, what’s causing the issue?
One aspect of cool weather that’s been argued could affect joints is barometric pressure, which is essentially the force exerted by the weight of our atmosphere.
Some researchers have proposed that a drop in barometric pressure, which tends to accompany cooler, damper weather, could allow tissues in joints to swell and put pressure on nerves that control pain signals.
However at extremes of barometric pressure, like going to the top of Everest or diving over 50 meters — you can certainly get joint pain, but with minor variations in barometric pressure that you get at normal altitude can have little impact on pain, otherwise you’d get sore joints from driving up the top of a local mountain.
The other culprit of this might be misbehaving nerves. Bodily changes triggered by cooler weather can have the side effect of amplifying pain signals from joints. Many arthritis sufferers have pain that persists, despite having joints that are not extensively damaged.
One proven reason for this is that their nervous system is essentially misbehaving. The pain signals travelling along nerves from their joint are amplified in the brain by signals carried on separate nerves called sympathetic nerves.
When it’s cold, these nerves constrict blood vessels in the limbs, to minimise heat loss and help keep warm the core of the body, where vital organs are.
But the increased activation of these nerves around joints in response to cold weather might also lead to an increase in the pain a person feels.
So what’s the solution? Just get moving!
Shorter days and cool temperatures can make us less inclined to be active, and immobility can also make arthritis pain worse.
If you focus on overcoming obstacles that stop you exercising in cold weather rather than just blaming the weather could be a helpful approach. Getting active can also help overcome a low mood for many people.
So go get a head start on the cooler months by starting regular exercise now.