By Scott Sneller, D.C.
Multicare Physicians Group
I see it all the time with patients and even my relatives. They swear that the weather affects how their joints feel. I'm sure you know of someone also whose knee “acts up” when a storm is coming. Well finally, some data has just been collected that seems to correlate one with the other.
The research on this issue was from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study tracked 205 arthritis patients who reported on their arthritis pain for a three month period.
After the study was completed, the researchers looked at weather patterns in the areas where the study participants lived.
They examined daily weather reports from NOAA for the temperature, barometric pressure, rainfall, and dew points for these locations for the three months of the study.
They found that changes in barometric pressure had a strong association with knee pain, as did cooler temperatures (although to a lesser extent). Rainfall and dew points, however, had no significant consistencies in this group.
So, no surprise to grandma, barometric pressure does have a strong correlation to arthritic knee and joint pain. But while it's been the subject of some studies, there's little evidence that cold weather actually causes arthritis.
So how did “Grandma Millie” always seem to know when bad weather would strike?
At sea level, the weight of just the air on our bodies is 14.7 pounds per square inch. Meteorologists use a metric unit of pressure from mercury barometers and relate this pressure to us by telling us the “barometric pressure.”
Ahead of weather fronts are temperature changes that create a change in barometric pressure, which affects how much weight is put on our bodies and, therefore, the fluid inside our joints and bones.
It's thought that the fluid inside the knee joints responds to that change in pressure by getting more distended, and that swelling of the joint makes it hurt more.
Post-surgical knee patients have related this same feeling, but primarily people who complain of weather related joint pain probably have some kind of arthritis.
The “itis” part of arthritis means “swelling.” This indicates that they have too much fluid pressure in their joints to begin with. Just as arthritis is a lack of good normal motion in joints, could cold weather create the same thing?
Just think of starting up your car on a really cold day. Like your car, if you park it outside, when you first move it, you know it doesn't move as well. You hear some noises as it limbers up, then as it and warms up, so to speak, the mechanical parts seem to move better. Our joints kind of do the same thing.
In addition, during severe cold weather, the body may circulate less blood to the hands and feet as a way of conserving warm blood cells near the heart and that can make the joints stiffen. People often exercise less in the winter also, which could make already stiff joints feel worse.
Stopping short of heading south for the winter, arthritis sufferers may find help by trying natural means, such as paraffin baths for their hands, creams and salves to alleviate some of their pain, or even chiropractic care, which effectively helps decrease inflammation and restore motion to these joints.
Keep in mind, mental attitude has a lot to do with the perception of pain. Most people get a little depressed during the winter months.
And during these times, everything has a way of feeling a little worse, including medical conditions. Exercise may help improve both your mental and physical state. Particularly swimming, it's easy on joints and also can be a relaxing form of exercise.
Multicare Physicians Group is a collection of Chiropractors, Medical Doctors, Physical Therapists, Massage Therapists, Acupuncturists, and Massage Therapists who have come together under one roof.
Located directly across from the Mazda dealership by the Explorers Baseball Stadium, Multicare can be reached by calling (712) 276-HEAL. “For any type of Care...choose MultiCare.”