Joint Pain and Weather: 4 Tips to Ease Discomfort
Do your joints predict the weather? Usually this happens on rainy and cold days. I’ve worked with several people who would be doing great, and then one day certain joints just hurt or crackled a bit more for no apparent reason. Usually, it correlated to a change in the weather patterns. But while many people believe weather can affect joints, the science behind it is not quite as confident.
Does Weather Really Influence Joint Pain?
Several theories exist as to why the weather may influence joint pain, but there are no proven mechanisms:
- One theory is that pressure changes in the weather cause pressure in the joints, which can lead to synovial fluid being shifted into subchondral bone. Basically, it creates a pressure cooker inside your joint that hits the nerve endings.
- A chemical theory is that since pressure may build up due to atmospheric changes, the bone tissue creates an inflammatory cascade by producing substances such as TNF-alpha and IL6, both well-known markers of inflammation.
- Lastly, some experts believe there is a psychological mechanism, where people believe the weather effects their pain, so to them it does.
Unfortunate and Inconsistent Measurement
Several problems exist when it comes to trying to study this issue. Weather, like people, is unpredictable. You would need consistent weather changes occurring at a precise time. In addition, most studies are based on pain scales, and self-reported data can vary quite a bit. Inconsistent weather and inconsistent reporting are both limitations.
Ethical and population issues also exist. Most of the studies are done on people with rheumatoid arthritis. To be consistent, the subjects would have to stop taking medications that help them deal with pain. Everyone has a different case of arthritis and the perception of that varies between people. It is unethical to leave people in pain and not addressing the pain wouldn’t lead to solid data due to such a variance of individual perception on the reported pain scale.
"While some studies do show a correlation between joint pain and weather, others do not."
While some studies do show a correlation between joint pain and weather, others do not. So, in scientific terms, we have no clue. Wilder et al reported no significant correlation in exercisers 49 years and older. Brennan et al did find a small correlation of weather fluctuations and pain in people with end-stage hip arthritis. This highlights the problem of comparing apples to oranges, as well. Wilder et al studied people who participated in an exercise program and were aged 49 to 90. Brennan et al compared people with a higher severity of hip arthritis with no consistent exercise regime.
The largest problem of all is that even if we found a correlation, it’s only a correlation. We would still have no idea what actually causes weather-related pain. I personally do believe there is something to this phenomenon, although we may never find out why or even really need to. Some things are impossible to study due to such individual differences, and that is the great thing about humans.
Four Ways to Ease Joint Pain
If you have experience with increased joint pain with weather fluctuation, it probably occurs in specific joints and I would bet there is a certain degree of arthritis in that joint. I’ve used a few methods to help people deal with this and keep it a non-issue.
- Double your warm up, especially for the affected joints. If you notice your joints are feeling worse, double your warm up. If you still feel pain or stiffness, cut the workout intensity by 50% or just spend the rest of your training time doing joint mobility. Longevity in training is more important than one day of training.
- Take fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Optimal nutrition is an obvious answer to helping with any ailment, and fat-soluble vitamins may deserve extra attention. One study found that vitamin D deficiency is more common in patients with arthritis. Other trials have shown positive effects with vitamin E. For health, you need all of these vitamins, and many people forget they need fat to be absorbed. In addition, a balance of polyunsaturated, saturated, and monounsaturated fat is important in keeping inflammation levels normal. At every meal, try to consume a fat source. Avocados, coconut oil, olive oil for dressings, fish, and nuts are some ideas.
" It isn’t a great idea to train hard on inflamed joints, so if you’re affected by changes in weather, then train smart."
- Pay extra attention to foods that affect your gut. Many times, we learn from observing the extremes. Looking at conditions like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, we find a link between impaired digestive function and other bodily conditions like arthritis. In fact, one review estimated that between sixteen and thirty percent of people with one of those two conditions has arthritis. It’s a good bet that even though you may not have inflammatory bowel disease, how you treat your gut still plays a role in how the rest of your body functions.
- Avoid foods you already know may bother you. Do you have a FODMAP intolerance or a dairy allergy? Be extra careful about what you consume especially when you are trying to train hard and the weather is taking a turn.
Do What's Best For You
While studies are inconclusive at best, it doesn’t mean the weather-joint link isn’t real. You know your body best. It isn’t a great idea to train hard on inflamed joints, so if you’re affected by changes in weather, then train smart. Come up with a routine you know works when joint pain creeps up.
Beyond my general suggestions, you may have other supplements that work great for you. Whatever your strategy is, find what works and be proactive by checking the weather forecast when you plan your training week.
More on joint health:
- Curcumin for Athletes: Why You and Your Joints Might Like It
- Two Jointed Muscles of the Lower Body: What They Are and How to Train
- Why Your Mobility Work May Be Harming You
- New On Breaking Muscle Today
1. L.K. Brakenhoff, et al. "The Joint–gut Axis in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases." Journal of Crohn's and Colitis 4, no. 3 (2009): 257-68.
2. Stephen A. Brennan, et al. "Influence of Weather Variables on Pain Severity in End-stage
Osteoarthritis." International Orthopaedics (SICOT) 36 (2011): 643-46.
3. A. Urruticoechea-Arana, et al. "Vitamin D Deficiency in Chronic Inflammatory Rheumatic Diseases: Results of the Cardiovascular in Rheumatology [CARMA] Study." Arthritis Res Ther Arthritis Research & Therapy 17, no. 1 (2015): 211.
4. F. V. Wilder. "Osteoarthritis Pain and Weather." Rheumatology 42, no. 8 (2003): 955-58.
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