Arthritis and cold weather: do your joints really hurt more?
The term arthritis is used to describe the pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint or joints in the body. Arthritis isn’t a single condition and there are several different types of arthritic conditions that are caused and exacerbated by a broad range of issues. Factors leading to the development of arthritis include genetics, disorders of the immune system, previous injury, sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Around 4 million Australians are suffering from a type of arthritis, equating to 1 in 6 of the total population. That’s a lot of sore joints. By far the most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which accounts for about half of all arthritis cases nationally and is more likely to affect females than males.
One thing I’ve heard many times over my years of practicing with Lane Cove Physiotherapy is that arthritis sufferers experience more pain during cold and rainy periods and that they can even predict upcoming cold and wet weather.
What does the science say?
Let’s just say the scientific community is far less convinced than many of my patients that their arthritic conditions are exacerbated by the weather. Over the years there have been a number of studies that look at the correlation between temperature, weather and barometric pressure with none being totally conclusive. Part of the problem could lie with the studies themselves. Many have used surveys with only a small number of people and utilising questions that may introduce an amount of bias into the results.
A 2016 study by the Institute of Bone and Joint Research at the Kolling Institute found no correlation between the weather and knee osteoarthritis pain reported by 345 participants. The difference between this study and many others is that participants weren’t asked directly if the weather affected their arthritis, they were instead questioned on their pain level and a comparison was made with the weather at the time, likely removing some bias in the results.
Other studies have concluded that conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis may be more sensitive to the weather and temperature, but not to the degree that it is clinically significant. Backing up these results is a 2016 study that compared the results of 12 studies on the subject. That study concluded that “the evidence to support the common belief and observation that cold climate worsens arthritic symptoms, is weak, however, some studies and experiments have shown that patients with arthritic symptoms do experience a trend of worsening in pain and stiffness in cold and damp weather.”
How can physiotherapy help to reduce arthritis pain?
The first step is by making an accurate diagnosis of the arthritic condition. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists are expertly trained to determine the onset and pattern of the pain and do clinical examinations of the joints and their movements. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist I regularly see new patients with undiagnosed arthritis who originally present to the physiotherapy clinic for help with their spine, hip, knee, shoulder or hand pain and stiffness. By completing a full body and physical history assessment with each client a musculoskeletal physio will likely be able to determine the root cause of the pain and identify the form of arthritic condition being suffered by the patient.
At Lane Cove Physio we strive to help our patients understand their arthritis in its current state and put a plan in place to reduce pain and wear and tear in the future. Physiotherapists should embrace patient self management and teach patients the how and why of their condition including:
- Techniques to manage joint pain
- Strategies to reduce joint swelling
- Joint protection – ways to reduce strain on joints and prevent or minimise joint deformities
- Exercises to restore and maintain joint mobility
- Exercises to improve and maintain strength and function
Can hydrotherapy reduce arthritis pain?
Hydrotherapy or Aquatic Therapy is an excellent way for those suffering from arthritis to build strength, ease stiff joints and relax sore muscles using the waters buoyancy to greatly reduce the pressure on your joints. This makes it easier to perform a variety of range of motion exercises without the fear of falling over or causing further pain. The water in the Lane Cove Physio hydrotherapy pool is also specifically heated to 34 degrees Celsius in order to increase circulation and blood flow while the increased temperature helps to soothe joint pain and inflammation. Arthritis Australia recommends trying Hydrotherapy and lists it as an effective exercise for those suffering from different forms of arthritis.
Whether or not you are one of the many people who report feeling more arthritis pain during the colder months, a visit to your local Lane Cove physio is a step in the right direction to minimising your pain.
 The influence of weather on the risk of pain exacerbation in patients with knee osteoarthritis – a case-crossover study. Ferreira, M.L. et al. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage , Volume 24 , Issue 12 , 2042 – 2047
 Gorin AA, Smyth JM, Weisberg JN, Affleck G, Tennen H, Urrows S, Stone AA (1999) Rheumatoid arthritis patients show weather sensitivity in daily life, but the relationship is not clinically significant. Pain 81(1–2):173–177
 Deall C, Majeed H (2016) Effect of Cold Weather on the Symptoms of Arthritic Disease: A Review of the Literature. J Gen Pract (Los Angel) 4:275. doi: 10.4172/2329-9126.1000275
 A Study of Hydrotherapy and Its Health Benefits, Mozhdeh Bahadorfar, International Journal of Research (IJR) Vol-1, Issue-8, September 2014