Picture showing bent knee with inflammation and a hand on the knee

Often in my pracice, persons would mention that they can always tell when it will rain or that their joints hurt more when it is cold outside.  Some times the overhead or standing fan is to blame.  Is there a reason behind these complaints or are they just old wives tales?

Joint pain that worsens in cold weather is a common complaint for many people, and several factors may contribute to this phenomenon:

  1. Changes in atmospheric pressure: Cold weather is often associated with changes in barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure gets lower, air pressure is pushing against the body to a lesser degree. This causes our muscles, scar tissue, and tendons to expand and contract, putting more pressure on nerves that control our pain centers. Even a small change in the barometric pressure can cause inflammation and pain.  Some individuals are sensitive to these changes and this may lead to increased pain and discomfort, especially for those with existing joint conditions.

  2. Blood vessel constriction: Cold temperatures can cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to certain areas, including joints. This reduced blood flow may contribute to stiffness and pain in the joints.

  3. Synovial fluid changes: Joints are surrounded by synovial fluid, which helps lubricate and cushion them. Cold weather may cause changes in the viscosity of synovial fluid, making it thicker and less effective in lubricating the joints. This can result in increased friction and discomfort.

  4. Muscle stiffness: Cold temperatures can lead to muscle stiffness, which can indirectly affect joints. When muscles are tight and less flexible, they can put additional strain on joints, leading to pain and discomfort.

  5. Inflammation: Cold weather can exacerbate inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Inflammatory responses in the joints can be more pronounced in colder temperatures, leading to increased pain.  

  6. Behavioral changes: Cold weather may discourage people from staying active and exercising, which is essential for maintaining joint health. Reduced physical activity can contribute to joint stiffness and discomfort.

It's important to note that individual responses to weather changes vary, and not everyone will experience joint pain in cold weather. If you're consistently experiencing joint pain, especially if it's severe or persistent, it's advisable to consult with your docttor or physical therapist. They can help determine the underlying cause of your joint pain and recommend appropriate treatments or lifestyle changes.

Michelle O'Neal-Woods

Michelle O'Neal-Woods

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