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Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall…the weather changes can cause joint pain! It is not just a cold weather problem…

“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” said Mark Twain. Just ask 93% of the arthritis sufferers who believe that the weather affects their pain level. History tells us that Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Christopher Columbus also felt this way about the weather.

Patients at our clinic have been particularly sensitive to joint pain on cold, damp days, especially during the past few weeks. In my clinical practice of orthopedic and sports physical therapy, an informal survey found that 95 out of 100 patients (95%) with arthritis reported increased pain with weather changes. While most people report that the coldness and dampness seem to irritate their joints, they also report more pain with weather changes in the summer. There is a reasonable explanation…

Our Joints

Joints in the body have a lining called synovium that secretes a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid. In joints with arthritis, there is an overproduction of synovial fluid. In theory, when the barometric pressure changes, so to will the pressure inside your joints, especially if it is already overfull with extra fluid from arthritis. This added pressure stimulates the nerve endings in the joint to produce inflammation and pain.

The Reasearch

Despite this overwhelming response from patients, scientific studies vary in their support of this claim. According to the Mayo Clinic, in 1961, a famous arthritis doctor (rheumatologist), built a climate chamber and discovered that when high humidity was combined with low barometric pressure, patients reported increased joint pain and stiffness. A recent study found that changes in barometric pressure and cooler temperatures are associated with joint pain. However, other studies have found increased joint pain with high barometric pressure in both warm and cold weather while another study found pain with low pressure.

What does this mean?

It means that patients with arthritis consistently report pain with weather changes but science has not found an accurate method to consistently support these claims. Some of these inconsistencies may be attributed to the fact that there are differences in sensitivity among individuals. For example, some patients have symptoms before the weather changes, while others notice symptoms during or after the weather changes. Still yet, some report more pain in colder conditions while others notice more pain in warmer weather. It appears that changes in the weather, such as a high to a low or warm dry to cold damp and vice versa is the culprit when it comes to irritating arthritis in a joint.

If I have arthritis, should you move to Arizona? Yes and no! Yes, the warm and dry climate of Arizona will probably make you feel better overall. However, it will not cure the degenerative changes in your joints and you may still have pain when CHANGES in the weather occur. This is proven to be true by the fact that there are many very busy rheumatologists in Arizona!

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is safe to say that there is some evidence to support the claim that most patients with arthritis have increased symptoms of joint pain and stiffness with CHANGES in the weather:

Therefore, each patient must be individually evaluated by their physician to determine the extent of their arthritis and its relationship to the changes in the weather. While the cause of their increased symptoms with changes in the weather may not be completely understood, each patient must determine the adjustments in their lifestyle and/or medications according to the particular weather patterns that affect their problem most.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Read all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at https://mackareyphysicaltherapy.com/forum/

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

10 Ways To Protect Your Joints This Winter!

The Problem:

Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is often considered to be a normal part of aging. Usually by the age of forty our joints, especially those which are weight bearing (lower spine, hips, knees, ankles, feet) begin to show signs of wear and tear. The cartilage begins to thin, joint surfaces are not as smooth, and fluid which lubricates the joint becomes diluted, dehydrated and less protective. Consequently, these aging joints become stiff, sore, weak, and  swollen. Most people with osteoarthritis report additional pain and stiffness in the winter and early spring due to cold, damp weather and NEPA has plenty of it! The cold, for example, restricts the flow of blood to the joints, leading to more pain and stiffness. While moving to a warmer and less humid climate is one solution, it is not practical for most. But all is not lost because there are other alternatives to protect and keep your joints healthier this winter and early spring. And, if you are looking for some practical gift ideas for your loved ones suffering from arthritis, these tips may be valuable.

1.Parafin Bath and Hot Packs:

A paraffin bath is one of the best methods to apply heat to your hands and feet to ease pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. A special heating unit works like a crock pot to melt the wax to liquid form. The hands and/or feet are dipped into the wax several times to create a warm coating around the entire area. A 20 to 30 minute treatment while watching TV or listening to good music will provide pain relief, improve mobility in the joints and bring life back to winter damaged skin. $39.99 to $159.99 (www.bedbathandbeyond.com). Hot packs, electric and microwavable, offer heat to bring blood flow and lessen joint pain and stiffness. They are great for neck and lower back pain, depending on the shape of the pad. Consider rectangle for lower back and cylinder/round to wrap around neck and joints of arms and legs. SourceMed.com offers an electric pad which creates moist heat for $59.95 and a microwave “bed buddy” (herbal or nonherbal) can be found for $9.99 to $43.95 at TheWarmingStore.

2.Hand and Toe Warmers:

Hand and toe warmers are small packets placed in the gloves or boots of skiers, campers and hikers to keep the hands and feet warm. These throw away warmers can also be used by anyone with cold hands or feet whether you are shoveling snow, attending an outdoor event in the cold or sitting in a cold, drafty room watching TV. (Walmart, Dick’s, Gander Mountain, www.amazon.com)

3.Knee, Ankle, Wrist, Elbow, Wrist Sleeves:

Supportive sleeves for the joints can provide protection and warmth year round, but especially during the cold winter and early spring. Those made with neoprene material offer warmth and compression and can be valuable when participating in activities such as skiing, walking, running, basketball  name a few. Additionally, it can be helpful for those having joint pain with daily activities such as grocery shopping or house work. These devices should not be used when sitting for prolonged periods of time or sleeping. There is no scientific evidence that supports the use of cooper or magnets weaved into the sleeves for additional pain relief. (available at most pharmacies and medical equipment stores)

4.Compression Shorts and Shirts:

Similar to neoprene sleeves, compression shorts, pants and shirts can be invaluable to those participating in outdoor activities in cold temps. UnderArmor, Reebok, Nike, and others make these products which can also be worn indoors for those working in cool, drafty environments.

5.Hot Tub:

It seems obvious how and why hot water and massaging water jets can soothe the sore joints and muscles. To ensure additional pain and stress relief, add a candle, soft music and a cocktail!

6.Low Impact Exercise for Legs:  

If you suffer from osteoarthritis to the joints of your lower body, you would be well-advised to limit impact activities such as running and basketball. Instead, walk, swim, use the elliptical and bike to protect your joints.

7.Low Impact Exercise for Arms:

As above, if you have arthritis in the joints of the upper body, use low weights, avoid push-ups and dips, which transfer your body weight through the arms.  

8.Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):

These over-the-counter, non prescription drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) which are very effective in the treatment of the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. However, like all drugs, they are not without their risks so one must consult with their primary care physician and pharmacist before using them. For example, NSAIDs can thin the blood, irritate the stomach and may interact with other medications.

9.Topical Creams: Lidocane, Capsacian

Topical analgesics or pain relievers can be rubbed into or sprayed on the skin over the affected area. Some products are counterirritants using menthol, methylsalicylate and camphor which provide a sensation on the skin other than pain. Salicylate based products can work like aspirin to provide relieve from mild pain and inflammation. Capsaicin based products can also provide temporary relief due to the counter stimulation of warmth and tingling. A few things to keep in mind when using these products: one, discuss it with your physician or pharmacist. Two, topical agents are more effective in superficial joints such as the fingers, toes, wrist, elbow, knee and shoulder than in the deep tissues of the hip, buttocks, or lower back. Three, wash your skin thoroughly ater using these products and before using heat, cold or electric stimulation.

10.Massage: The therapeutic benefits of massage are well documented. However, like most treatments, it is important to find a qualified professional that meets your needs. Licensed physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and massage therapists are the best choice. Benefits include; relief from pain, headaches, muscle spasm, and stress, improved relaxation, posture, and breathing.

SOURCES: www.apta.org; www.webmd.com

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

For all of Dr. Mackarey's Articles visit https://mackareyphysicaltherapy.com/forum/

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.