Long before we looked to Doppler radar and high-tech satellites to predict the weather, some people looked no further than their own arthritic knees to see what Mother Nature had in store. Even now, you might hear someone say, “My knees are aching – must mean rain is coming.”
But can sore joints really predict the weather or is it an old wives’ tale?
According to experts at Altru Advanced Orthopedics, it’s not an old wives’ tale. Changes in the weather can really cause joint pain to flare up.
According to studies, the weather factors that are most likely to cause joint pain are a drop in temperature or barometric pressure. A study from Tufts University in 2007 found that every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with an increase in arthritis pain. In addition, relatively low barometric pressure (which can lead to precipitation) also increases pain. Researchers suspected the pain is a result of swelling in the joint capsule reacting to the outside environment.
Those who have undergone joint replacement surgery can also note a difference. Because they contain metal and foreign material, joint replacements get colder than your bones, which contain cells that work to generate core temperature.
Other orthopedic surgeries, that don’t involve replacing the joint, are less likely to cause significant weather-related joint pain.
Dr. Darin Leetun, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder and knee surgery and care, says broken bones can feel pain from cold weather years after the initial break. It helps to cover up and dress warm, but the pain doesn’t occur solely if the joint is exposed to cold air.
“People can complain about their hands being sore from the cold weather, but it’s more dependent on what joint has had the most wear and tear,” he says. “You could have a knee that’s completely covered, but it might feel the effect of the weather more than a hand that isn’t covered.”
Dr. Leetun advises patients to dress warmly to reduce the pain from weather-related changes to the joints and try some over-the-counter help.
“Using something like Ben-Gay will stimulate blood flow in the area which might bring relief. You could also take anti-inflammatories or Tylenol for pain,” Leetun says.
For more information about taking care of your joints, visit altru.org/ortho.