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How Bad Weather Affects Aches & Pains

Raincoat or sunglasses? Umbrella or sun hat? Who knows?!  The notoriously changeable Irish weather makes a forecaster’s job almost impossible. The forecast on your phone tells you to get the sunglasses out; your granny says her knees tell her the bad weather is on its way.  Who do you trust? Is this an old wives tale or should you get Granny a regular spot on RTE after the Six’ One News?

Does Bad Weather Make you Feel Worse?

People with aches and pains commonly state they feel worse on cold days. This belief goes all the way back to 400bc when Hippocrates noticed that many illnesses were related to changes in the seasons. Studies carried out have shown 92% of people with fibromyalgia and 80-90% of people with arthritic joints feel their symptoms are weather sensitive.

Numerous reasons for this change in self-reported symptoms have been put forward but very few high quality studies have been carried out to back up the claims. However, it would appear Granny’s not talking rubbish. Certain pain diagnoses have been reported to be especially sensitive to weather changes, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, phantom limb pain, headaches, scar pain , gout, trigeminal neuralgia, low back pain, and pain influenced by mood disorder.

How Does Bad Weather Can Cause Pain?

A lot of research focuses on the change in barometric pressure. Cold weather is accompanied by areas of low atmospheric pressure. When the pressure drops, less force is exerted on our tissues and joints by the atmosphere. Our tissues therefore expand and put more pressure on joints. This happens to us all at a microscopic level. However if you already have compromised joints, you have less scope to cope with this added pressure. Nerves which are already sensitised become even more so and constantly send pain signals to the brain.

The likelihood is that it’s a multifaceted effect. Mood is likely to play a large role. We’re all happier when the sun is out and this has a huge impact on pain perception centres in the brain. Also, people with chronic pain are encouraged to stay as active as possible. Bad weather affects these people’s ability to get out and about. After a week of inactivity due to bad weather stiffness, weakness and pain follows. So when is Granny more likely to complain of her sore knees– sitting in the kitchen, listening to Joe Duffy for the fourth day in a row, or when she’s sitting on the beach eating an ice-cream after a gentle walk?

So What Can be Done During Bad Weather?

So Granny goes on holidays and come back saying she feels great… it’s more than likely that she does. So, should you help her pack for the Costa Del Sol long-term then?  NO!! You can’t do that to your Granny!! Plus, she would eventually acclimatise to the barometric pressures there, and would feel worse again when the rains in Spain arrive.

What should you do then?  A heat pack or other forms of warmth should help her muscles relax, keeping her legs elevated will help reduce swelling and keep her moving to reduce stiffness. Your local physio can devise a personal exercise program and give further treatment and/or advice on managing symptoms.

So, sorry I haven’t helped with your raincoat or sunglasses dilemma but hopefully your Granny feels a bit better!

Thanks to Ronan Buckley for writing today’s blog post. Ronan is our Chartered Physiotherapist in Newbridge, Co. Kildare and although he is unable to change the weather he is certainly able to help you with pain relief. If you are suffering from any of the problems which have been mentioned in the blog post (and many more) we can help you. If you are not near to our Newbridge clinic don’t worry! All of our Physiotherapy team across Ireland will be able to help you out. If you do want to come in and see one of  our Physiotherapists please book an appointment through our patient services team. We look forward to working with you.