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Does cold weather make joint pain worse?

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According to a recent survey, 72 per cent of people feel that they suffer more with joint discomfort and stiffness because of the weather. But do cold wet days really make joint aches and pains worse? We check out the facts.

Does the weather affect arthritis pain?

People with arthritis often say their joints start to play up if there is a storm in the air or rain is forecast. They complain their knees are creakier, their fingers feel stiffer and that their hips just don't seem to have the same mobility as they do in warmer weather.

But is there any research to back up this theory?

What is the evidence behind worsening arthritic pain and cold weather?

One study, albeit carried out over 50 years ago, which looked at the effect of high humidity and low barometric pressure on arthritic joint concluded pain and stiffness increased. It was thought this was because of a drop in atmospheric pressure, which caused soft tissue swelling - like how fluid accumulates around your feet and ankles when on an airplane - which resulted in stimulation of nerve endings.

However, other studies have shown no significant climatic influence on arthritis whatsoever. Yet patients themselves remain adamant. 'What do research scientists know anyway? It isn't them that are suffering from the symptoms,' they cry.

What does the doctor say?

The weather undoubtedly can affect our health. In the winter for example, heart attacks, depression and pneumonia are more common. In the summer, allergies, asthma and insomnia are rife.

When it comes to our joints, summer sunlight can trigger the relatively uncommon arthritis condition Lupus, while a winter cold snap can be torture for someone with Raynaud's disease. Is it not logical or possible that the millions of people with more common, but less inflammatory forms of arthritis, may also be affected by the changes to the weather too?

After all, the red, inflamed knee joint of rheumatoid arthritis responds well to the application of ice and rest. Physiotherapists routinely apply hot wax or towels to the stiff, stone cold creaky knee of osteoarthritis. If we treat joint pain and stiffness using temperature change and liquids, why can't the ambient daily temperature of the air around us have an influence on them?

What can we do about it?

When it comes to arthritis, the vital trigger factor appears to be any alteration or change in the weather. Even in hotter climates therefore, relative changes in air pressure and temperature produce similar symptoms in joints as those triggered by similar atmospheric changes in colder climates.

The key is to know and understand your own body, and to be aware of the signs and symptoms when your joints start to react to any adverse changes in the weather.

Our top tips for keeping joint pain at bay:

  1. Lose weight if you need to
  2. Keep your joints moving as often as you can
  3. Exercise to keep muscles strong to protect joints from impact and strain
  4. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and veg, lean red meat, oily fish, nuts and seeds
  5. Prevent swelling with ice, rest, compression and elevation
  6. Use anti-inflammatories wisely
  7. Enjoy regular joint and muscle massages whenever you can
  8. Keep joints warm and free from draughts
  9. Stay positive and optimistic - happy hormones and humour help to make pain and discomfort easier to cope with

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