Achy joints? Here’s how to find relief in the cold, damp days of winter

Streets of Toronto X Cleveland Clinic

It’s not just your imagination- stiffness, aches and pains are associated with changes in weather.

Scientists haven’t yet come to a consensus on exactly how this may occur, but the anecdotal evidence is significant in leading us to think achy joints and damp days are related.

How changing weather causes pain

Many think it’s due to higher humidity accompanied by falling barometric pressure — the weight of air pressing on our planet and on us. Decreasing pressure (which ushers in bad weather) means air presses less on our bodies. That allows tissues to swell slightly, and it’s possible the resulting enlargement of tissues irritates the joints.

Cooler temperatures don’t help. Cold can make muscles, ligaments and joints stiffer and more painful. When barometric pressure and temperature fall and humidity rises, people tend to complain of more aches and pains. Damp cold seems to exacerbate pain. However, this discomfort seems more strongly related to the change in pressure, temperature and humidity. Especially the speed at which these changes occur.

Those with arthritis, neck pain or other types of musculoskeletal issues tend to report the most weather-related pain. But weather doesn’t appear to alter reporting connected to nerve pain conditions, like complex regional pain syndrome or neuropathy.

What to do when the weather is causing you pain

While you can’t avoid changing weather, you can take steps to prevent, ease or relieve weather-related joint pain.

  • Stay limber — Stretching regularly and doing yoga are great ways to increase flexibility and maintain joint health. Building muscle may also help. The more muscle you use during physical activity, the better able those muscles are to support your joints.
  • Do water exercises — Working out in a warm pool is especially good for loosening stiff muscles, strengthening joints, building muscle strength and easing discomfort. Water provides resistance while lifting the weight from aching joints.
  • Consider anti-inflammatory medication or treatments — People with pain in a single joint — such as the site of a former knee injury for example — tend to benefit from a steroid injection or other treatment.

Overall, maintaining mobility is the best way to fend off widespread joint pain — and that’s true in any kind of weather.

If you’re suffering from joint pain or recovering from an injury, the sports medicine experts at Cleveland Clinic Canada can help. They offer a wide range of sports medicine and rehabilitation services, including orthopaedics, physiotherapy, massage therapy, personal training and chiropractic care. Appointments are available at their two locations in Toronto – Yonge & Eglinton and Bay & Wellington – as well as virtually, across Canada. Learn more about their services here.

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