Is there a link between cold weather and muscle and joint pain?

is there a link between cold weather and aches and pains?Most of us will have heard friends or family say that they suffer from increased aches and pains in muscles and joints during cold, wet and unsettled weather, and some have personal experience of this. Others dismiss it as an old wives’ tale, but it’s a claim that pops up in cultures all over the world, and throughout history.

Hippocrates noted, around 400BC, the effects of winds and rains on chronic diseases in his book Air, Water, and Places (1).

In Asia and China, ‘rheumatism’ is translated as ‘wind wet disease.’ (2).

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania speaks of ‘contagious fogs’ and ‘distemperature’ in which ‘Rheumatic diseases do abound’
(2.1.70-91).

This is a good point to note that ‘rheumatism’ is an old-fashioned term for aches and pains anywhere in the body. It is no longer used in medical literature, but today ‘Rheumatology’ means the study of joint diseases, including the many types of arthritis.

The types of conditions and diseases which often said to be associated with ‘weather pain’ are indeed those which cause chronic pain in the muscles and joints.

These include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, phantom limb pain, scar pain, gout, trigeminal neuralgia, and non-specific low back pain (3). Weather patterns that have been studied in relation to pain are: temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, humidity, thunderstorms, sunshine, and increased ionization of the air.

So is there a link between the weather and muscle and joint pain? A number of studies have been conducted, with mixed results. It’s challenging for scientists to analyse something so subjective as peoples’ experience of pain, when other factors are undoubtedly involved, such as level of exercise, mood, and diet. Also, many arthritic conditions have a cyclical nature of flare and remission. Add this to the variable patterns observed in the weather, and it is likely that at some point these will match up. It’s human nature to look for patterns and to notice coincidences, and some of the more sceptical reports believe that this is what’s happening (4). However our own clinical experience tells us that there is a link between muscle and joint pain and weather conditions, and it’s worth taking a look at some specific studies to try to find out what’s really happening.

Recent research has focused on the possibility that changes in atmospheric pressure may be responsible for increased pain in those with arthritic conditions or chronic pain, specifically just before or during a spell of low pressure, and the cold and damp conditions that accompany it. As air pressure drops, air molecules and gases expand. The theory is that low pressure causes gases and fluids in our joints to expand in a similar way, causing pressure on nerves and sensitising them to pain. In addition, in an area of microtrauma, such as an arthritic joint or scarred muscle, tissues of different densities may expand and contract in different ways to those beside them, increasing stiffness and pain (3). There is no conclusive evidence to prove this theory. A 1995 study claimed of 557 people concluded that ‘changes in barometric pressure are the main link between weather and pain’ (5). A population-based survey of 2491 people between the ages of 25 and 60 living in the North West UK in 2005-6 found that

‘pain reporting was higher on days with the lowest average pressure, but the relationship with pressure was inconsistent and there was no evidence of any trend in the relationship. The strongest relationship with pain reporting was with hours of sunshine and daily average temperature.’ (6)

The survey discovered that

‘Participants who completed the questionnaire on days when the temperature and hours of sunshine were highest were significantly less likely to report any pain and were approximately half as likely to report pain that was chronic and widespread.’

In general, we feel happier and more relaxed when the weather is warm and sunny and perhaps less likely to notice or report pain.

We hunch ourselves up when we are cold, making muscles tighter and less mobile. When it’s sunny we have more exposure to vitamin D, which fortifies our bones and cartilage. Studies have shown that osteoarthritis patients with low levels of Vitamin D experience a worsening of their symptoms (7). We also know that warm muscles are longer and more supple – this is why we ‘warm up’ before exercising to avoid injury, and apply heat to sore muscles to relieve pain.

Packing up and moving somewhere with a warm, sunny climate is not the answer, although it can help temporarily. Evidence suggests that when people move to a warmer climate, they feel better for the first few months, ‘but then their body acclimates to that weather pattern and they start feeling just like they did before.’ (9) So don’t to pack your bags just yet, but there are actions that you can take to help minimise aches and pains through the winter months.

Crucially, on warm, sunny days, people are much more likely to exercise. The human body is built to move, and regular exercise is the best thing we can do for our general health. This is especially true for those who have arthritis and other painful conditions of the muscles and joints (8), though it is important to do a level of exercise that is appropriate for you. If you are already in pain, the idea of exercising may seem overwhelming, but gentle movement of any kind is better than no movement at all.

Regular exercise will ease stiffness, strengthen muscles, improve circulation, help to control weight – putting less strain on joints, help maintain bone density, improve sleep and boost mood. All of which help to prevent pain.

After a fantastically warm and sunny year, the nights have well and truly drawn in, there’s a chill in the air, and many of us are preparing to go into hibernation on the sofa, with a cosy blanket and a hot chocolate. It’s great to keep warm, but don’t be afraid to complement this with regular exercise and movement to help you feel fitter, healthier and happier, and stave off those aches and pains. And try to get outside on those rare sunny days!

So, while there is no definitive evidence as to whether the weather can influence musculoskeletal pain, there are many anecdotal reports that it is the case. What do you think? We’d be interested to read your comments.

References

1. Tversky, Amos, 1995, ‘On the belief that arthritis pain is related to the weather’ http://www.pnas.org/content/93/7/2895.full.pdf

2. Smedslund, Geir et al, 2009, ‘Does the Weather Really Matter…’ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/art.24729/pdf

3. Jamison, Robert N, 1996, ‘Influence of Weather on Report of Pain’ https://www.brainlab.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Influence-of-Weather-on-Report-of-Pain.pdf

4. Redelmeier, D, 2005, ‘Does damp or wet weather really make arthritis pain worse? If so, how?’, Scientific American http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-damp-or-wet-weather/

5. Wikipedia, 2014 ‘Rheumatism’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rheumatism#.22Rheumatism.22_and_weather

6. Macfarlane, Tatiana V et al, 2009, ‘Whether the weather influences pain? Results from the EpiFunD study in North West England’ http://rheumatology.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/8/1513.full

7. ‘Taking Charge of Arthritis,’ p.192, Reader’s Digest Health Solutions.

8. ‘Why is Exercise Important?’ Arthritis Research UK http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/arthritis-and-daily-life/exercise-and-arthritis/why-is-exercise-important.aspx

9. Nazario, B, ‘Do Your Aches, Pains Predict Rain?’, MedicineNet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52133

Comments

  1. I have proof for me that there is definitely a link between cold weather and muscle pain. For 19 years I was told by the NHS I had ME, now they say it is myotonic dystrophy.

    The muscle pain in my legs, glutes/perifmous (butt) is always worse in cold weather. Cold for me to cause pain is anything under about 18 degrees celcius. On warmer days my muscle pain is about 3/10 with my anti inflammatory medication, but on cold days it is 6/10 with anti inflammatories.

    Many doctors over the years have told me it is just that as we are on holiday somewhere warm and relaxed the stress and everyday life problems have gone, so that is why the muscles ache less.

    However, this simply is not true, when I holiday in the UK with my family, Legoland, Blackpool, London etc then my muscles hurt just the same as being back in Plymouth. But when we holiday in Spain / Florida my muscles improve significantly within 48 hours of arriving in the warmer climate.

    I believe this must be due to the air pressure making a difference to the way the muscles react, and also the temperature.

    • I feel the same way my legs and back ache chronically but has soon has I go to Tenerife the waters have healing powers and all my aches and coughs nasal problems on first day there i’d Taken a coughing fit fetched up everything mucus I was a much happier person I found out I was running out in Spain like a child when I got back to the United Kingdom it all went down hill there were plenty of for filling things to experience out there beautiful landscapes you could go any were I’d recommend this to everyone I am trying to get back there it’s threputing and it does your health the world of good the Grand Canaries Ellen Drake

  2. I certainly find that I find that when winter comes around and the nip in the air gets felt, I do find that I have to consciously relax my muscles that I don’t usually notice in warmer weather.. Using a heating blanket makes a strong contrast with tensed and relaxed muscles and lower back pain. I would conclude that the constant change in artificial temperature climates as air-conditioning, heating etc does without a doubt cause a bit of confusion in muscular contractions and possible pain.

  3. Zahedi

    Thank you for publishing above article, I have been having serious upper back muscle pain in the last three years as soon as temperature drops below 10 degrees and specially if it is raining.

    I will keep a diary if you are interested to see if I can see the low pressure link.

    Many thanks

  4. Sue Key

    I was recently fitted with a neurostimulator in my abdomen to help control nerve pain sustained in my left leg after a lot or surgery. It seemed to be working well until our weather here in The Blue Mountains of NSW Australia turned really cold and I am now in a lot of pain most of the time. I am trying to keep it as warm as possible which sort of helps a bit. Many years ago I suffered greatly from knee problems which were addressed by an Orthopaedic Surgeon in Sydney who told me that the changes in atmospheric pressure absolutely affect injured joints etc,. So I definitely believe it. I used to be able to predict when it was going to rain. Seriously.

    • Muscle Clinic

      Hi Sue, thanks for sharing this, it’s good to hear from you from the other side of the world. So many agree with you in saying that their musculoskeletal pain is affected by the weather, we are convinced there’s something in it. Keep warm! Charlotte and David

      • Sue Key

        Thank you so much Charlotte and David.
        I can’t wait for warmer weather. I was so close to going back on my morphine which is the whole reason I agreed to he fitted with the IPG, to get off it after 7 years!! I have just been trying to keep my leg as warm as possible. I did also read that when your body gets really cold, blood is drawn from your extremities to keep your “core & vital organs” protected. Makes sense I suppose.
        This is a great Site. Thank you. I have been doing such a lot of research on this and now I know I, “WE” are right.
        Thanks again.

  5. Randall Frasier

    Here in the high heat of North Texas summers, I suffer constant nerve, muscle, and bone pain. These are the GOOD DAYS. As soon as summer has firmly established itself, I begin to dread the coming fall as it indicates the approach of the cold and damp days that can plaque the winter. The wind blows almost always here. Great in the summer. Deadly during colder months. It causes me great troubles in the fall, winter, and spring. Cold, damp, and windy is my worst nightmare. It increases my suffering significantly.

  6. Brett

    Thank you for the concise, well written and informative article. It addresses issues which have been at the foremost of my mind for some years now and the suggestion that diet, exercise and attitude all contribute to increased ‘wellness’ is one which concurs with the very best advice that I have received and also with my own personal experience.

  7. Omaha now FloridA

    Moved from Nebraska to Florida in 2013 now 2017 so happy, my quality of life has improved greatly with less pain.

  8. Tyger Moeletsi

    I have read with interest your article and I certainly have more or less similar experiences. I have been experiencing acute bodily pain that transcends down to my bones in cold weather although it occurs even in the slightest cold weather like on cloudy days. A slightest exposure sends shivers in my whole body. It is also mostly triggered by sweat like after working and sweating and an immediate exposure to mild weather conditions. These shivers in my case are accompanied by profuse sweating so much that I have to change my pyjamas over the night.

  9. Great health information shared.Thanks for sharing this information with us.Atmospheric pressure is the main factor in joint pain. cold weather makes people much less active.This information is very useful for everyone.

  10. Ed Budnick

    I did some work on ly Christmas decorations and pilled a stomach muscle and wondering if the cold weather that we are having have any effects on it!

  11. pamela Hunter

    I’ve been suffering with ‘sore legs’ ever since I was a small child- over 40 years. I am affected by any small variation in temperature but particularly so during the colder months. It happens here in the Uk, as well as on holiday in such warm countries as Sri Lanka and the Madives.

  12. John Wesley

    Thank you for the good information on weather and health.

    Good to do exercise regularly and enjoy the blessings of God in health etc.

    God Bless.

  13. Rosalind

    Interesting helpful comments, l play golf 3 times a week all year round, in the cold wind like yesterday l now ache my hands feel sore and my whole body aches, but when l am playing my legs ache and l feel l have no power in my limbs, l am not puffed out at all, l am in my mid seventies and love playing and need to keep fit and keep going, l just need to know how to get some relief for my achey body? The summer time l do feel better.

  14. Good blog on weather and massage! I totally agree that when it’s colder we definitely feel more aches and pains! I highly recommend weekly massages to help combat the stress of pain ❤

  15. Very nice article!
    Keep sharing

  16. Ugo

    My wife and I are originally from Nigeria but we have been living in the UK for a long time. For many years my wife has been experiencing body pain and aches, pins and needle, pain in her bone, waist pain, fatigue and general discomfort on a daily basis. To function well, she has to take 4 courses of painkiller daily.

    But when we travel to Nigeria, she is free from these pains and discomfort. We decided to take note, and came to the conclusion that her pain or lack of it is definitely related to geographical location.

  17. Thankyou for sharing! I agree with the cold weather bringing on pain! The hear here in the summer is brutally HOT! I think your Celsius would be 37 to 40 here! In Fahrenheit 90 to 100 ..add the humidity which is usually 5 degrees more! I stay in doors and keep cool! Keep warm under a heated blanket!

  18. Lisa Mendoza

    Very interesting article. I live on a tropical island. We have two seasons, dry and wet..sun and rain. I experience muscular pain in my back and limbs during the rainy season. It’s worse if I actually get wet from the rain (sad because I love it).
    On the other hand, I’ve also had pains from being in an a/c room for long periods no matter what season it is, especially if I’m bare footed.
    Naturally the most severe pain comes when there is rain and a/c together.
    I’ve concluded that it’s just coldness that does it for me and not the weather.
    What do you think?

  19. Pat Meed

    I have a lower back injury which is now better but I cannot get out of bed easily without stiffness and discomfort which sometimes means I must take an anti-inflamatory. I also suffer (upon waking), painful sinuses and a headache. In summer I do not have either of these problems!!

    Just recently in Southern England we have experienced more than 10 weeks of above average summer temperatures and drought conditions. My pains and aches have been totally absent. 2 days ago it rained and the temperature dropped by 10 degrees and I woke up to my winter condition.
    Winter and summer I walk my dog for 5 miles regardless of pain and I am active all day outside in my large garden often recording over 20,000 steps on my ‘fitbit’ so my exercise ‘regime’ is similar in winter as in summer and regardless of weather conditions. This sudden change from 32 degrees to 19 degrees-from hot and dry to wet and cool has proved to me the theory that aches and pains are subject to weather conditions.
    One other example- a year ago I ruptured the cruciate ligament (ACL) in my right knee which caused excruciating pain but still attempted to lead a normal life. Naturally at this time my activity level was reduced but I still walked the dog and did what gardening I could manage. 3 months after the initial injury I went from a ‘normal’ English summer to Sicily where it was hot and dry. I continued to walk long distances in pain. My knee began to improve rapidly over the week. Mt friends were amazed.
    This convinces me that weather/temperature/barometric pressure etc must play some part. What I don’t understand is how I could retire to bed after a 32 degree day and because it rained in the night, wake up with a headache, painful sinuses and a stiff and painful back and for good measure twinges in my 95% cured knee. I was in bed, not sleeping in the rain!

  20. Good blog on muscle pain in the cold weather! I guarantee it really is true! I feel it in my bones when it’s cold too! When the weather is warm or hot I feel GREAT! The cold temp definitely affects people with aches and pains! Get a massage to relax the achy and pains! ❤

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