Weather arthritis pain
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Information from the Arthritis Foundation
So what is the link between weather and arthritis?
The perceived link between illness and the weather dates back to 400BC when it was noted by Hippocrates. Since that time, there have been conflicting opinions on the matter, and there is still no universal agreement as to whether the weather has an effect on conditions such as arthritis… unless, of course, you ask patients who have arthritis!
Medical conditions that have been reported as being sensitive to changes in the weather include: rheumatoid arthritis; osteoarthritis; low back pain; gout; fibromyalgia; phantom limb pain; scar pain; headaches; trigeminal neuralgia; and pain influenced by mood disorder.
However, most investigations examining the relationship between weather and pain have studied people with arthritis. The joints most commonly believed to be affected are the knees, shoulders, hips and fingers.
While some studies of the link between arthritis pain and the weather have been inconclusive, others seem to have found an association.
One US study of 359 people with gout found that gout attacks were significantly more common in the spring than at other times of the year, and an Israeli study of 82 people found that weather changes which occurred 4 to 5 days before an attack of gout might have played a significant role in precipitating the attack.
It is very difficult to get a definitive cause and effect relationship in studies because of the variety of meteorological variables involved, such as temperature, barometric pressure, rainfall, humidity, thunderstorm activity, sunshine, and the level of ionization of the air.
As arthritis occurs in all sorts of climates all over the world, it seems unlikely that living in a cold, damp environment predisposes a person to get arthritis. Nevertheless, it does appear that certain people are weather-sensitive and say they suffer from more intense pain and greater difficulty performing tasks in particular weather conditions. Some studies appear to have shown that women are more sensitive than men to weather changes affecting their arthritis.
Different reasons have been put forward to explain the effects of weather changes on pain. One of these is that changes in temperature may have an impact on body tissues. Tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissue all have different densities, and cold and damp may expand or contract them in different ways. Warmth, such as a hot bath, can often help to ease the pain.
Another explanation for weather changes affecting arthritis is that changes in barometric pressure may increase stiffness in the joints and trigger subtle movements that heighten pain response in already sensitized joints. Alternatively, the change in barometric pressure may temporarily unbalance body pressure and sensitize nerve endings. In rheumatoid arthritis, joints are inflamed and under pressure because of increased joint fluid. If the barometric pressure drops, tissues can become more inflamed, causing more pain.
A study by Dr. Joseph Hollander at the University of Pennsylvania suggested barometric pressure had an effect on arthritic joints.
A third explanation is that seasonal weather patterns may influence mood in some people, indirectly affecting their pain perception.
Some researchers are not convinced of the link between weather and pain, and think that people tend to look for patterns where none exist. For example, a person might have an experience when intense pain was coincidentally accompanied by bad weather, and this may be enough for them to believe the 2 are always linked.
Moving to a warmer climate is not always the answer to improve arthritis as the body is said to establish an equilibrium with the local climate, so that relative changes in weather may trigger an increase in pain regardless of the actual weather. Also, there are so many factors involved in arthritis that moving house is not likely to solve the problem.
The scientific evidence for the effect of weather changes on arthritis pain is still ambiguous, but the high number of people who report a link may point towards a relationship. However, no matter how good or bad the weather might be, it will still not change the long-term outlook for people with arthritis.
Nonetheless, the fact that so many people move to warmer climates for their aches and pains certainly bears keeping in mind!
I know I feel better when it's warm!
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