Ask a PT: Why Do I Feel More Pain when the Weather Changes?

Weather ChangeWeather changes and pain are a frequent complaint healthcare providers hear from their patients. It is a proven fact that increased humidity can increase the pressure we feel in our joints, increasing swelling in arthritic and recent (within one year) surgical joints, leading to a short term increase in pain. Cooler temperatures also seem to promote increased pain sensitivity in research completed in residents of Argentina, with increased pain sensitivity in patients with more chronic pain conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Headache sufferers and patients with fibromyalgia tend to feel more headaches with large changes in barometric pressure.

Why? Research so far has produced two theories. First, changes in pressure can increase swelling. Also, colder weather typically arrives with cloudier days, as do rainy days. Less sunlight also can increase our perception of pain, as they have in research on mice with arthritic joints. So how can we lessen the impact of weather on our joints? Should we all move to dry, warm, and sunny climates? Maybe. But for the rest of us, just being aware of the impact of weather on our joints may help us better plan big projects and activities with lots of time on our feet when we can predict our joints may not be at their best. We can also better explain pain and manage pain if we understand why it may be occurring, and change our daily activities as a result. When the weather is damp and soggy, ice your achy joints several times per day with elevation. Or take a warm bath to ease overall body aches. Reduce overall noxious activities that may be headache producing to reduce the risk of getting a monster migraine. It may be a little contributor to pain, but recognizing the impact of changes in weather alone is an important step to managing the irritations that come with pain.