Spring Showers Don’t Only Bring May Flowers

Jennifer Lauro


There is scientific evidence to suggest that weather changes can impact arthritis pain. In Spring, there can be extreme changes in the weather, like what we have recently seen 70 degrees one day and snow the next. A few key studies published in the Journal of Rheumatology and the Journal of Pain Research reported that patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and/or fibromyalgia have higher pain levels on days with more extreme weather changes. Patients with osteoarthritis tend to have higher pain levels on days when the barometric pressure is low (rainy days). Increased arthritis pain was associated with days that had higher humidity levels. Scientists have completed many studies on joint pain and weather over the years, but they have yet to say for sure what the connection is. There are a few theories. One is that people with joint pain, especially arthritis, may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure because the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint is worn away. The nerves in the exposed bones might pick up on the changes in the barometric pressure. Another theory is that when the barometric pressure drops before bad weather, this lower air pressure presses less against the body, allowing your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue to expand, causing an inflammatory response. This will then put added pressure on the arthritic joints, which can cause pain. Low temperatures can make the fluid inside joints thicker, resulting in increased stiffness. We tend to stay indoors and lounge around more when it’s cold and rainy outside or hot and humid. Inactive arthritic joints become stiff and painful as well. When the weather turns, flare-ups are very real for many people with joint pain. Some people’s bodies are more sensitive to weather changes.

It may be helpful for individuals with arthritis to be aware of these effects and to plan accordingly. You don’t have to pick up and move to a different climate. There’s plenty you can do at home to relieve joint pain:

  1. Don’t strain your joints if you don’t have to.
  2. Although it may be hard, ask for help, someone else would be more than willing to assist you in lifting those heavy boxes.
  3. When temperatures drop, try to keep yourself warm.
  4. You can ask your doctor about pain medication like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs.
  5. Keep a healthy weight and stay active. Try exercise that’s gentle on the joints.
  6. Look into assistive devices/adaptive equipment for arthritis.

Reach out to an occupational therapist to determine the most appropriate equipment and/or treatment for your needs. Occupational therapists can also educate those living with arthritis in ways to protect the joints to prevent deformities, increase comfort, and increase the ability to perform daily activities such as planting your May flowers!

Editor's Note

Jennifer is an Occupational Therapist at Woodlawn Hospital.
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