Does the Weather affect Arthritis?
Oct 30, 2013
The exact cause of arthritis and related conditions is unknown and it can therefore be stated categorically that a cold damp climate does not actually cause these conditions, but certainly may influence the symptoms. It is well recognised that arthritis also occurs in very warm climates and there is very little statistical evidence that the problems of arthritis is higher in less warm regions.
Traditionally, it has been recognised that some patients can predict impending changes in the weather with great accuracy. Some patients may say that they are able to predict alterations as successfully as the meteorological service, particularly when rain is expected. Patients with so called 'barometric joints' often note an increase in stiffness and pain when the weather is about to change. The exact reason for this is debatable, but it is known that joints, tendons and ligaments are surrounded by numerous nerve sensors. It was shown in the USA many years ago that the change in the atmospheric pressure discovered when barrier chambers were used to alter the pressure experimentally. The core body temperature in most human beings varies little from the mean of 37 degrees centigrade, but the temperatures within joints reflect more the levels of overlying soft tissues. One of the knuckle joints with very little overlying insulation of fat or muscle has intra articular temperatures that parallel those of the ambient closely between the resting temperatures Of 39 and 40 degrees, created by insertion of the hand into an electric mitten. The metabolic pathway within the rheumatic tissues may be altered and joint collagen and important chemicals within the joint.
In order to protect against the effect of damp and cold, common sense in trying to maintain the ambient temperature at a comfortable level with central heating, sufficient clothing including thermal underwear with the extremities well covered when going out into the open is often helpful. Modern hand warmers often used by golfers in the winter do keep the hands warm. Flexibility of muscles, ligaments and joints is reduced in cold temperatures and again with adequate insulation and gentle flexibility exercises help to protect the joints. Symptomatic improvement with swimming and hydrotherapy may in part be explained by the temperature effects, as well as increasing mobility of the joints. Paradoxically, cold packs occasionally help joint pain by possibly reducing the painful stimuli from the sensors around the joint.
Finally, it is important again to state that there is no evidence that alterations in temperature actually cause arthritis, but do in some patients make the symptoms worse.
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This information has been provided by Arthritis Ireland, Ireland's only arthritis charity enabling people with arthritis to take their lives back.