Why Do My Joints Ache When the Weather Gets Cold?

Many patients come to physical therapy asking ‘why’ – why they have increased pain when it rains, snows, or just when the weather gets cold.  This question has been researched minimally and considering the amount of patients that report these findings, one would think there would be more research on this topic.

The main theories are as follows:

1. Change in Barometric Pressure – This theory is based on a study of a balloon in a Barometric Chamber.  The Barometric pressure is decreased and the balloon increases in size.  Therefore, the drop in pressure can similarly cause tissues around the joints to swell.  Because a drop in barometric pressure precedes a storm, patients can ‘predict’ when a stormfront is approaching.  Typically, patients with arthritis or a previous joint injury are the patients that report these weather-related findings.

2. Psychological – Another theory mentions that people tend to feel pain in their joints during bad weather, rather than preceding bad weather.  The theory claims that people are less likely to feel the pain on warm, sunny days.  This concept could be due to the increased release of endorphins, with increased sun light and people mentally feel better when it is nicer outside.

3. Humidity – This is my personal theory.  I believe patient’s joints have increased lubrication when there is more humidity in the air.  Just like a hinge requiring lubrication to move in a fluid motion, our joints require constant lubrication to move without restriction and pain.  Therefore, when the humidity decreases, there is a decrease in lubrication of our joints, which in turn causes pain.  This is why most people with arthritis like to move down south to enjoy year-round warmer weather.

In summary, there is no definitive reason why people report increased pain at their joints when the weather changes.  It is suprising how little research is done on this topic.  I believe there is validity for people feeling the change in weather in their joints; however, there does not seem to be a clear reason why it is experienced.  Thoughts?

Clinical Question – Strain vs. Sprain

What is the difference between a strain and a sprain?

Strain- A strain occurs to a muscle or tendon from an acute injury.  An example of this is when someone is in a car accident.  The person’s muscle/tendon is over contracted or over stretched depending on the position of the person during the accident.  Common symptoms are pain, weakness, decrease range of motion, and muscle fatigue. 

Sprain- A sprain occurs to a ligament in response to an overstretch or tear. An example of a sprain is when a patient steps off a curb and lands on the outside of their foot, this results in an ankle sprain.  Common symptoms are pain, swelling, brusing, and decreased range of motion.

Article Response – Wall Street Journal, “Getting Fit Without the Pain”

I recently read the article “Getting Fit Without the Pain” in the Wall Street Journal on September 28, 2010.

This article did a good job of educating America about going to a Physical Therapist not only for an injury, but to begin exercising safely.  As we age, we tend to develop aches and pain along the way.  For some people it is their knee, others their shoulder, etc. Physical Therapists educate patient’s on how to safely begin their exercise goals and which exercises are better suited for them based on their past medical history.  By going to a physical therapist before starting an exercise program, you are less likely to cause injury to yourself while exercising.

As the article states, ” what physical therapists are very good at is identifying barriers to exercise-knee injuries, chronic ankle pain-and building a program around them that creates incremental improvement.  After receiving a fitness program from a physical therapist, many patients will hire a personal trainer to implement it.  But prevention is where many physical therapist say their progession could make the most difference. ”

When going to a physical therapist to begin an exercise program, the therapist will evalute your muscles and joints from head to toe.  Therefore, we can create a program catered to strengthen/stretch the key areas needing improvement.  This in turn will help prevent injury in the future.

Harbor Physical Therapy offers Wellness Evaulations to create an exercise program catered to your needs.   If you are interested in learning more about how you can prevent injury when starting an exercise program.  Please give us a call at 443-524-0442.

Click here for a link to the article.