Dr. Kyle: Can Changes in Weather Predict Pain?

 

 

I always thought my grandma was crazy when she’d say I can “feel” a storm coming as she’d rub her knees. To my surprise, her knees were often better at predicting the weather than our local news. How come?

It’s believed that changes in barometric pressure can lead to increases in musculoskeletal pain. In particular, for individuals suffering from osteoarthritis. But what’s surprising is most of the research is either inconclusive or there’s little evidence to support these claims.

After hearing a number of my patients describe similar changes in pain levels due to the changes in weather, I thought I’d take a further look at these claims.

In one survey by Von Mackensen et al., one to two thirds of patients with rheumatoid arthritis believed their symptoms were weather-sensitive (1).

Other studies found an increase in barometric pressure or a drop in ambient temperature are both associated with an increase in pain (2).

At first glance it appears there may in fact be some credible evidence to support this strange phenomenon, but why?

Joint Pain in Scuba Divers

Have you ever swam to the very bottom of a pool in the deep end and felt your ears pop? This sudden change in pressure is similar to what scuba divers experience but on a smaller scale.

Sudden changes in tissue gas tension surrounding the joints can cause fluid shifts and interference of joint lubrication. When divers go deep, their joints may hurt as there’s not as much fluid surrounding their joints. This becomes worse if severe osteoarthritis exists (3).

Why Your Joints Hurt More on Colder Days

Colder temperature and its association with increased pain is much easier to explain. We know that cold temperature reduces inflammatory markers, changes the viscosity of the fluid in our joints, and can decrease the strength and support of our muscles around joints (4). Patients tend to experience more severe joint pain during the cold winter months.

Show Me Your Search History and I’ll Diagnose Your Pain

I still recommend an in-person consultation but we’re close to this becoming a reality. A recent study found an association with local weather and rates of online searches for musculoskeletal pain symptoms.

Searches for arthritic related symptoms are significantly more common in climates closer to -5 degrees Celsius than 30 degrees Celsius. Although this doesn’t explain WHY osteoarthritic patients suffer more pain, it gives us a better idea of WHEN they experience worse symptoms and under WHAT conditions (5).

Well there you have it folks. There are still many uncertainties and unknowns on why joint pain increases when the temperature drops or pressure rises. But if you can sense the next snow storm or torrential downpour from your knees and not the news, you may be experiencing some underlying osteoarthritis.

1. Von Mackensen S, Hoeppe P, Maarouf A, Tourigny P, Nowak D.
Prevalence of weather sensitivity in Germany and Canada. Int J
Biometeorol. 2005;49(3):156-166.

2. McAlindon T, Formica M, LaValley M, Lehmer M, Kabbara K.
Effectiveness of glucosamine for symptoms of knee osteoarthritis:
results from an internet-based randomized double-blind controlled
trial. Am J Med. 2004;117(9):643-649.

3. Compression pains. In: US Navy Diving Manual. Revision 4 ed. Naval
Sea Systems Command; U.S. Government Printing. 1999:3-45.

4. Golde B. New clues into the etiology of osteoporosis: the effects of
prostaglandins (E2 and F2 alpha) on bone. Med Hypotheses. 1992;
38(2):125-131.

5. McAlindon T, Formica M, Schmid CH, Fletcher J. Changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature influence osteoarthritis pain. The American journal of medicine. 2007 May 1;120(5):429-34.

Tips for Snow Shovelling

 

Don’t Let the Snow Get You Down

Winter weather can pack a punch and, with the season’s heavy snowfalls, injuries often result. Improper snow shovelling is often to blame.

But shovelling out after a storm doesn’t have to leave you stiff and sore. With a little know-how, you can clear your driveway without the all-too-common back, neck and shoulder pain cramping your style. Here’s how:

Before You Start:

  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is just as big an issue in the winter months as it is in the summer.
  • Dress in several layers so you can remove a layer as you get warm.
  • Wear proper footwear. Shoes and boots with solid treads on the soles can help to minimize the risk of slips and falls.
  • Pick the right shovel. Use a lightweight, non-stick, push-style shovel. A smaller blade will require you to lift less snow, putting less strain on your body. An ergonomically correct model (curved handle) will help prevent injury and fatigue. Also, if you spray the blade with a silicone-based lubricant, the snow will slide off more easily.
  • Before beginning any snow removal, warm up for five to 10 minutes to get your joints moving and increase blood circulation. A brisk walk will do it.

All Set to Go

PUSH, DON’T THROW.

Push the snow to one side and avoid throwing it. If you must throw it, avoid twisting and turning — position yourself to throw straight at the snow pile.

BEND YOUR KNEES.

Use your knees, leg and arm muscles to do the pushing and lifting while keeping your back straight.

WATCH FOR ICE.

Be careful on icy walkways and slippery surfaces. Intermittent thaws and subsequent freezing can lead to ice building up underfoot, resulting in nasty slips and falls. Throw down some salt or sand to ensure you have a good footing.
Once you’ve mastered safe snow shovelling techniques, you’ll be free to have fun and stay fit all winter.

 

Call and book an initial assessment with Dr. Kyle Aram today!