Does Weather Affect Joint Pain?
How the weather can affect joint pain, and what to do about it.
Should You Move to Florida or Arizona? continued...
So it's not always helpful to believe "that whole myth of, 'Go to Arizona when you live in the Northeast and somehow your pain will be a lot better,'" Jamison says. "We know that if you ask people to rate their pain in Minnesota or Arizona or California or even Florida, there's no one area of the country where you'd say, ‘There's less pain there.'"
Borenstein notes, too, that when people with arthritis vacation in a warm climate, they often stay in a hotel and eat out, relieving them of daily duties that cause pain. And that relief can be deceptive, he says, because if they actually move to a warmer climate and resume daily activities, the pain often returns.
Relief is possible. During weather changes, some people with arthritis will need to increase their pain medications, Borenstein says. They can take these steps, too.
Stay warm. Dressing in layers, keeping your home heated, and warming up the car before you get in can help ease pain related to cold weather, according to the National Institutes of Health. Also try sleeping under an electric blanket or warming clothes in the dryer before wearing.
Apply a heating pad to your painful joints, Jamison says. "Heat lets muscles relax, so it's a soothing way of helping with pain."
Try to prevent swelling. Warmth helps with joint pain, but not necessarily swelling, Borenstein says. For example, if bad weather worsens arthritis in the hands, try wearing Spandex gloves at night to try to keep fluid out of the joints, he suggests.
Keep moving. Before you go outside during cold weather, try to exercise your painful joints to loosen up stiffness.
Improve your mood. People in chronic pain often feel anxious, depressed, and irritable, Jamison says. But in many cases, when pain strikes, "The brain is able to override a lot of sensations."
Learning how to improve your mood is important, he says. "Break things down into bite-size pieces. Learn how to pace yourself, and figure out how to improve your sleep. We know that distraction is really important, so have something to keep your mind occupied, and keep active."
Realize that the pain is temporary. When weather-related pain strikes, "It isn't a permanent change. It's short-lived," Borenstein says.
In fact, people will begin to adjust to the barometric changes. "The body is acclimating to the change and will move fluid from the joint into the circulation, so the patient feels less stiff and less achy. These are physiological changes that occur in relationship to these barometric changes, and they will in fact resolve."
"That knowledge -- knowing what's happening -- can be reassuring to people who experience these aches because we really can't do anything about the weather. Hopefully, they realize that the pain will go away."