Winter’s here, and, for many, winter means more aches and pains for those who suffer from arthritis. Although there has been little research done on whether cold temperatures have any direct effect on arthritis or the progression of the disease, it does seem to cause arthritis sufferers an increased level of joint stiffness and arthritis pain.
Although weather can be measured easily, the aches and pains of patients are not as easy to measure. Whether cold temperatures increase the level of arthritic pain has been the subject of debate for many years. In fact, Hippocrates – the Greek "Father of Medicine" – wrote in his book "On Airs, Waters and Places," that human ailments may be related to weather. That was in 400 B.C., and still today with all the medical advances that have been made since that time the question remains.
A study conducted by researchers at the State University of New York observed 75 rheumatoid arthritis patients over a three-month period, and the study concluded that overall joint pain complaints increased on cold days. However, while the cold weather does appear to increase the degree of joint pain reported by arthritis sufferers, the reason as to why this happens is still up for debate.
One of many theories is that in cold weather the body may circulate less blood to the peripheral areas, as a way of conserving warm blood around the heart, which is believed to make the joints stiffer, leading to increased joint pain.
Then there is the question of the guy that can predict when it’s going to rain by the way his knee feels. Well, there is some truth to that as well. In 1969, a study was done to predict just whether this was an accurate deduction in weather prediction. In the study, 12 patients were put into a chamber in which the humidity and atmospheric pressure were adjusted. The results? Of the 12 participants, 11 had a reaction to the changes in these atmospheric conditions.
These results have led most to the conclusion that a drop in atmospheric pressure – such as with rainy and cold weather – is related to arthritic aches and pains. The theory behind this is that air pressure is reduced and any existing inflamed tissue in and around the joints expands, causing increased pain. This would explain why many who suffer from arthritis can sense the change in atmospheric pressure, and, consequently, can predict rain or snow.
There are, however, skeptics who argue that there is no physiological connection between weather changes and increased joint pain. Those who do not agree that there is a physiological connection to joint pain and weather changes argue that it is a person’s psychological state that affects one’s perception of joint pain. For example, it might be argued that on a cold or overcast day, people are more inclined to be unhappy and, therefore, more inclined to focus on the severity of their joint pains.
It also is argued that during the winter, people who normally would be out doing things are not going outside because of the cold weather, which also could be argued as a cause of joint stiffness.
Regardless of which theory may be true, the fact remains that 4 out of 10 adults in the United States are estimated to suffer from arthritic pain on a daily basis, and many of them claim to have more problems during winter months. Many of these adults – approximately 89 percent – say they experience pain on a monthly basis, but just assume it is part of life’s aches and pains, according to a Gallup survey.
The survey also found that pain strikes the young and the old alike, but the frequency, severity and causes of pain change as people age. Americans 65 and older are more likely to experience pain than the younger generation, but many still do not consult a physician.
Due to the results of these findings, the Arthritis Foundation has established educational programs to help people better understand their pain and also to encourage communication with health care professionals.
Tips for helping those who suffer from arthritis make it through the winter with the least amount of pain possible are to plan ahead and prepare for the weather.
Always dress in layers; wear lightweight, but warm clothing; and wear mittens rather than gloves, as these are easier to get on and off. Research has shown that people who live in colder climates usually can adjust to the cold temperatures, but that’s no excuse to challenge the body or put it to the test.