Does cold weather increase joint pain and stiffness?

There are plenty of people who report an increase in joint pain and stiffness in cold weather.

But is this fact or fiction?

Results of scientific studies to date are mixed.

From clinical observations I definitely see an increase in people presenting with joint pain during the colder months.

So what may be some of the contributing factors?

1. A Decrease in Barometric Pressure

Barometric pressure is the force exerted by the weight of the 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.

But other researchers suggest that this minor drop in barometric pressure in winter is unlikely to be significant enough to cause joint pain. It does seem to be possible at extremes of barometric pressure, like going to mountain tops or deep sea diving.

2. Amplification of pain signals from the joint

One theory with more scientific evidence behind it is the notion the cooler weather can amplify pain signals from affected joints to the brain.

So, for people with existing joint pain like arthritis, nerve signals travelling from the joint have been found to be amplified in the brain by signals carried on separate nerves called sympathetic nerves.

Sympathetic nerves are part of the body’s system for automatically maintaining its internal functioning. When it’s cold, these nerves constrict blood vessels in the limbs, to minimise heat loss and help keep the vital organs of the body warm.

However, 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.

3. A decrease in mobility

There are some factors that we can do something about – and mobility is one of them.

Shorter days and cooler temperatures make us less inclined to be as active as we are during the summer months. This increased immobility tends to make joint pain worse.

Why?

Being less mobile decreases nutrients and oxygen to the joints increasing the feeling of ‘stiffness’.

Similarly a decrease in movement, shorter amount of daylight and a bout of cold and/or flu can lead to a low mood which we know is linked to a higher level of perceived pain.

The best solution for joint pain is to get moving.

Not only does it increase much needed oxygen and nutrients to the joints, it also helps overcome the winter blues!

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