The cold temperatures blanketing much of the country can be wonderful: beautiful snowfall, sipping hot chocolate and snuggling up by a cozy fire. But stiff and sore joints can be a definite downside to the cooler months; plenty of people suffering from arthritis and osteoarthritis find that cold weather makes their condition worse.
One aspect of cool weather that could affect joints is barometric pressure – the force exerted by the weight of the atmosphere. Researchers suggest that a drop in barometric pressure, which tends to accompany cooler, damper weather, could allow tissues in joints to swell and put pressure on nerves that control pain signals.
There is also evidence to suggest that bodily changes triggered by cooler weather have the side effect of amplifying pain signals from joints.
Many arthritis sufferers have pain that persists, despite having joints that are not extensively damaged. One proven reason for this is that their nervous system is essentially “misbehaving”; pain signals travelling along nerves from their joint are amplified in the brain by signals carried on separate nerves called sympathetic nerves.
These sympathetic nerves are part of the body’s system for maintaining its internal functioning without us having to think about it. When it’s cold, these nerves constrict blood vessels in the limbs, to minimize heat loss and help keep the core of the body warm.
The increased activation of these nerves around joints in response to cold weather might also lead to an increase in the pain a person feels.
Mood and Motion
A winter drop in mood is common for many people and low mood has been linked to higher levels of perceived pain.
Shorter days and cool temperatures can also make us less inclined to be active, and immobility can make arthritis pain worse by reducing the flow of nutrients and oxygen to joints. Finding a way to stay active in winter can make a huge difference. And getting active can also help improve your mood.