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 – Sitting Posture

Will strengthening my stomach muscles help me with my sitting posture at work?

Yes, by strengthening your core muscles it will allow you to maintain an ideal sitting posture for a longer duration.  Having weak core muscles will cause you to sit with a more forward flexed posture and you will not be able to sustain good posture throughout your workday.

Clinical Question – Ice vs. Heat

Should I apply ice or heat for pain?

First you need to determine if you have pain from an acute injury or chronic injury.  An acute injury has a rapid onset and is short-lived.  A chronic injury happens gradually and is long-lasting.  For acute injuries, you should apply ice for 10-15 minute intervals several times a day for up to 3 days.  For chronic injuries, you should apply heat for 15-30 minutes intervals as needed.  If you find your symptoms still persist after approximately 48 hours of heat/ice treatment, you should contact your physician or physical therapist for further treatment options.

Clinical Question – Stress

When I have a stressful day, why do I have more neck and back pain?

When stressed, people tend to contract their muscles.  For example, people tend to elevate their shoulders toward their ears when stressed, thus causing increased tightness at the muscle on top of the shoulder (Upper Trapezius).  This leads to increased muscle tightness, which in turn can cause more pain.

Regarding physical therapy of your neck and back.  If you continue to have increased stress in your life while receiving physical therapy, this will lengthen the amount of time it takes to have a successful treatment outcome.  During therapy, the therapist will provide you with techniques to prevent further tightening of your neck and back musculature.

Clinical Question – Length of Treatment

How often and how long do I need physical therapy?

Depending on your condition, the therapist will give you an approximate timeline.  On average, physical therapy is usually 2 days a week for approximately 4-6 weeks.  Patients that have an extensive past medical history might take longer to heal; therefore, requiring a longer duration of physical therapy.  Examples that affect the duration include: diabetes, age, smoking, history of slow healing wounds, malnutrition, previous injury to the area being treated, and previous surgery to the area or limb being treated.

Exercise Guidelines

There are many different opinions on the frequency and duration a person should exercise in a given week.  Therefore, in 2007, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) revised their guidelines for exercise to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  These guidelines are good principles to think about when planning an exercise regimen.  They are as follows:
<ol>
<li>Do fairly intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week or do energetically intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.</li>
<li>Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises with 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.</li>
</ol>
<h3>Tips for following the guidelines:</h3>
Life gets busy so sometimes it is difficult to fit exercise into our schedules.  Here are some tips to help include exercise into your life.
<ul>
<li>Mix it up:
<ul>
<li>To meet the guidelines, you can vary the cardiovascular exercise you perform. Such as, you can walk vigorously for 30 minutes twice a week, ride a bike at a moderate intensity for 20-30 minutes twice a week, and jog/run at a higher intensity one-two days a week.</li>
<li>Do it several times a day in shorter time frames:</li>
<li>If you are too busy to do 30 minutes of consecutive exercise, you can perform intense 10-minute bouts of exercise 3 times a day, equaling 30 minutes.</li>
</ul>
</li>
<li>Work out with friends/family:
<ul>
<li>To motivate you to continue your exercise routine, it is helpful to bring friends and family in on the fun!  Therefore, you can motivate each other to continue exercising.  It is also helpful to get involved in exercise classes.  You will find that it is very motivating to have an instructor pushing you to make it through your workout class.</li>
</ul>
</li>
<li>Set your schedule:
<ul>
<li>Just like you schedule a meeting with work or friends, schedule exercise!  By scheduling exercise, it helps you keep up with your routine and stay healthy.</li>
</ul>
</li>
<li>Starting an exercise program:
<ul>
<li>Some people find starting an exercise program very intimidating.  If you fall in this category, there are some options out there for you.  Harbor Physical Therapy offers <span style=”text-decoration: underline;”><strong>wellness evaluation</strong></span>.  This entails a session with Dr. Amanda working on whatever aspect of your body you feel needs expert attention.  Dr. Amanda can provide you with a workout regimen that gets you started on your healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you get bored with your routine or want to try something different, Dr. Amanda can continue providing you guidance.  <strong>Please give us a call at 443-524-0442 for details.</strong></li>

There are many different opinions on the frequency and duration a person should exercise in a given week.  Therefore, in 2007, The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) revised their guidelines for exercise to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  These guidelines are good principles to think about when planning an exercise regimen.  They are as follows:

  • Do fairly intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week or do energetically intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
  • Do eight to 10 strength-training exercises with 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.

Tips for following the guidelines:

Life gets busy so sometimes it is difficult to fit exercise into our schedules.  Here are some tips to help include exercise into your life.

Mix it up:

  • To meet the guidelines, you can vary the cardiovascular exercise you perform. Such as, you can walk vigorously for 30 minutes twice a week, ride a bike at a moderate intensity for 20-30 minutes twice a week, and jog/run at a higher intensity one-two days a week.

Do it several tmes a day in shorter time frames:

  • If you are too busy to do 30 minutes of consecutive exercise, you can perform intense 10-minute bouts of exercise 3 times a day, equaling 30 minutes.

Work out with friends/family:

  • To motivate you to continue your exercise routine, it is helpful to bring friends and family in on the fun!  Therefore, you can motivate each other to continue exercising.  It is also helpful to get involved in exercise classes.  You will find that it is very motivating to have an instructor pushing you to make it through your workout class.

Set your schedule:

  • Just like you schedule a meeting with work or friends, schedule exercise!  By scheduling exercise, it helps you keep up with your routine and stay healthy.

Starting an exercise program:

  • Some people find starting an exercise program very intimidating.  If you fall in this category, there are some options out there for you.  Harbor Physical Therapy offers wellness evaluation.  This entails a session with Dr. Amanda working on whatever aspect of your body you feel needs expert attention. Dr. Amanda can provide you with a workout regimen that gets you started on your healthy lifestyle.  Also, if you get bored with your routine or want to try something different, Dr. Amanda can continue providing you guidance.  Please give us a call at 443-524-0442 for details.