Cold weather and pain

It is a commonly held belief that pain is worse in the cold and damp – from years gone by, people have talked about the damp getting into their joints, and how their old injuries can ache in cold weather.  But is this actually true, or just one of those old wives’ tales that are so often quoted as fact?

According to the research, it is indeed a recognised medical phenomenon that pain is made worse by the weather turning at around this time of year.  Injuries, both old and new, make themselves known and arthritic joints tend to seize up more than ever.  It is a miserable time of year for many people – it’s just as well Christmas appears in the middle of it to lighten the gloom!

The real question is – why? What is it about those frosty mornings or damp, drizzly afternoons  that causes pain to increase?  To me it seems incredible, but even with all the scientific knowledge and resources at our disposal, we actually still have no idea!  There have been ideas thrown about, from change in the barometric pressure affecting the body to the chill causing muscles to stiffen, but nothing has actually been agreed upon or proved to be the source.

Atmospheric pressure tends to drop just before bad weather sets in, so it is thought this reduction in pressure around a body can allow the tissue around the joints to expand and therefore increase the pressure on joints.  But the effect is so minute, it is hard to believe it actually has sufficient power to cause such a significant change in the levels of pain experienced.

Another possibility is that areas where injury or degeneration has occurred in a body often have over-active nerves, and therefore any slight change around these areas can be amplified by this hyper-sensitivity.  This means that things which would pass normal, healthy tissue by completely unnoticed are picked up on and relayed to the brain as a painful sensation.

Whatever the reason, winter is a time many of us dread for the damp, cold, dark days and the increase in pain that goes with it.  The best way to cope is obviously to stay warm, but also try to keep moving.  Not only will this help keep you warmer without the need of increasing the temperature on your thermostat at home, but the increase in blood circulation around the body helps to combat any swelling around joints, keeping you more flexible and mobile and in less pain.  Emigrating could work too…. although, personally, I find the idea of a warm Christmas season too odd for comfort!

So, not a myth in the sense we know it happens…but a mystery in that we don’t know why!