There is a definite nip in the air and autumn is upon us but as we start to reach for the hat and gloves many people also start reaching for the painkillers for those old familiar ‘aches and pains’. Osteoarthritis is a very common condition affecting 8.5 million people in the UK, making it the most common joint disease. As a chiropractor I see lots of patients with osteoarthritis every day in practice and I often hear tales about how the weather can affect joint problems.
Does cold weather make arthritis worse?
Patients have long been telling me that their back pain or joint pain gets worse as the weather gets colder. A friend of mine is 27 years old and has had knee surgery and she often complains that her knee hurts when it gets colder or if the weather is changing and there is a change in barometric pressure. I may even have mockingly uttered the words “you sound like an old womanâ€!
Just another urban myth?
I had a look at the research to try and find out. One theory says that cold weather stiffens the muscles and so muscles cannot support a joint as effectively. Another idea is that in colder weather the synovial fluid that lubricate joints is of a lower temperature and so becomes more viscous and does not lubricate the joint as well. A drop in the barometric pressure that usually accompanies damp and wet weather has also been blamed, supposedly causing joints to swell!
However there is no evidence that weather directly affects joints or causes any damage to them, there is no more incidence of arthritis in cold, damp and rainy climates than in warm, dry and sunny places. Osteoarthritis occurs all over the world and in all types of climate.
What do we know then?
Regular exercise and muscle strengthening exercises will help osteoarthritis. This is because we need well-functioning muscles to support joints and allow them to move freely. Strengthening the muscles and keeping muscles at optimal length through regular stretching WILL help your joints function better. Resting, or doing no exercise at all just means that stiff joints stiffen up even further. A little bit of short term discomfort in joints following gentle exercise is better in the long term than doing no exercise at all.
So you need to wrap up warm and get out and enjoy some of the great Yorkshire countryside we are so lucky to have on our doorstep!