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Pain Management Health Center

Does Weather Affect Joint Pain?

How the weather can affect joint pain, and what to do about it.
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Should You Move to Florida or Arizona? continued...

"People with chronic pain, if they can't get out as much -- and it's so cold all the time or rainy or snowy -- then they think, ‘Boy, I'd like to go some place where the weather isn't quite so dramatic,'" Jamison says of his patients in Boston.

Though he doesn't advise against moving to warmer climes, he does try to offer realistic expectations. "There's no heaven on earth," he says. "If you have awful back or neck pain ... there's a good chance that that pain will travel with you."

In fact, in Jamison's research, people from San Diego reported the greatest sensitivity to weather changes -- a surprise finding, considering that it had the warmest climate, compared to Nashville and the two Massachusetts cities.

San Diegans in his study noticed pain even with small changes in weather. "You think of San Diego and the temperature is always mild -- it never gets too cold or particularly too hot -- but with just a small change, people with pain still reported that they could detect it," Jamison says. "I think as mammals, we kind of adjust to our climate."

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.

Comfort Measures

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.

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