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Does weather affect joint pain?

Oct 5, 2016

The weather is changing, and with that change comes new temperatures and conditions that factor into play when trying to get a proper amount of daily exercise and activity. A lot of times, this change in weather also brings new aches and pains as the temperature and humidity shift to fall, and shortly after, winter. But why is this?

Why is it that weather can affect joint pain so drastically? The sky is blue, the air is crisp, not a cloud in sight, so why is your previously injured hip joint throbbing? Unfortunately, there is no definitive scientific answer, but there are quite a few theories. Scientists did a study in Boston, where temperatures reach a drastically low temperature during the middle of winter. Around two-thirds of the volunteered answers agreed: The weather absolutely affects their injuries. But why?

A leading theory is that the air pressure changes with impending weather fronts and this can cause swelling of the joints. Scientists have suggested that it is the shift in barometric pressure that might be the cause of discomfort. Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. When bad weather is on its way in, barometric pressure drops. The lower air pressure will push less against the body, sometimes enough that tissues will expand. If the tissues expand enough, during a particularly bad incoming storm, for instance, the tissues can press onto the joints, causing a dull, throbbing pain. Scientists also have found receptors in the joints, called baroreceptors that can sense changes in barometric pressure. In other words, your joints, can act like mini-barometers, sensing change in the weather.

The cause of the pain remains hypothetical, but it has been previously proven that higher altitudes cause our bodies to swell, particularly our extremities, such as hands or feet. Many experience these symptoms while flying, so they will remove rings or switch to roomier shoes for the duration of the flight. This confirms that the drop in air pressure can significantly affect the human body.

Bottom line, aches and pains with weather change is not all in your head. So if you experience discomfort with change in the weather, it is never a bad idea to get things properly checked out with an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist.

Here’s Premier Orthopedic Surgeon Nicholas DINubile, MD discussing the effect of weather on your body and joints with Al Roker on The Weather Channel: