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How Cold Weather Affects Joint Pain

December 14, 2021

Do you seem to know when colder weather is coming because you can “feel it in your bones”? Many patients experience flare-ups of joint pain at the start of the winter season. While there is no one explanation for this link between the change of temperature and joint pain, we do know of a few possible reasons why you may be feeling these effects. 

Barometric Pressure and Weather

Barometric pressure is the measurement of air pressure in the atmosphere. This measurement changes constantly and is dependent on where the reading is taking place. Weather also changes with barometric pressure, meaning that the pressure reading will often fall before cold weather sets in. Aspects of the weather, including precipitation, humidity, and temperature are all at play here, making it difficult for scientists to be sure what exactly causes the additional pain. 

One theory is that when the cartilage that cushions the bones inside the joint is worn away, like for those with arthritis, nerves within the exposed bones feel the changes in barometric pressure. 

Another theory is that changes in barometric pressure can make tendons, muscles, and scar tissue expand and contract - creating pain in the joints. 

Dropping temperatures can also make the fluid inside of your joints thicker, making them feel stiffer. Joints may also stiffen up due to a lack of movement, which often happens when people stay indoors and are inactive due to colder weather. 

How to Ease Joint Pain

There are multiple methods that you can use to ease weather related joint pain. 

As the weather becomes colder, keep yourself warm by using electric blankets, wearing warm clothing and layering, keeping your house well heated, and making sure you are warming up your car before use. 

You can also help prevent your joints from swelling by wearing well-fitted gloves that keep fluid out and by wearing knee braces. To help relax muscles, apply heating pads to painful areas when necessary.

Trying to stay active will also help to reduce joint pain. Keep joints limber and strong by practicing a few stretches and gentle exercises like swimming or yoga every day. 

A doctor may also recommend taking pain medication. Consult with your doctor before taking any medications to ensure correct type and dosage. 

When to See a Doctor

Consult your physician if you experience unusual or new symptoms. These may include swelling, redness, or difficulty putting pressure on or using a joint. 

If you are unable to ease joint pain, contact our physical therapy team or your physician for alternative suggestions or treatments.