Risk For Ra From Colder Environments
A cold working environment might increase the risk of developing RA, according to a 2017 Swedish study. In this study, researchers relied on self-reported information on work environments, which included cold indoor and cold outdoor settings, to better understand overall risk and inflammatory markers associated with RA development.
Researchers also investigated how the stress of an occupational physical workload might affect the development of RA in combination with a colder work setting. Based on questionnaires, study participants were categorized by work environmentindoor cold versus outdoor cold presently and in the past.
They also looked at physical workload factors, including bending, lifting, and hand and finger repetitive movements. Researchers found the risk for RA was 1.5 times higher for people who worked in outdoor cold environments and 1.7 times higher for people working in indoor cold environments compared to people who hadnt worked in these types of settings.
The researchers further suggested the indoor cold environment posed a higher risk than the outdoor cold environment because there wasnt always a temperature consistency in the indoor setting. They added that differences in how people were affected by cold could also play a part in how these occupational environments might trigger RA.
What The Studies Show
The research on weathers impact on arthritis is conflicting. One study from Tufts University showed that with every 10 degree drop in temperature, arthritis pain increased in the study participants. It also showed that low barometric pressure, low temperatures and rain can increase pain. Studies in cadavers have showed that barometric pressure can affect pressure in the joints. In one cadaver study, low atmospheric pressure threw the ball of the hip joint off track by more than one-third.
However, other studies have shown that regardless of where people live, their bodies seem to establish a new equilibrium to the climate they live in. One study that looked at chronic pain sufferers in warm and cold areas San Diego, Nashville, Boston, and Worcester, a Massachusetts city with much colder temperatures than Boston found that two-thirds believed the weather worsened their pain. However, the perceived effect of weather on pain was not found to be related to the regional climate. Thus, this study did not support the theory that pain is worsened by living in a colder climate. In other words, relocating from, say, Buffalo to Miami will probably not make much difference in the long-term. And there are other studies in which people say there is no difference in their pain due to weather changes.
Arthritis Pain Relief Tips For Winter Weather
Dress warmly, work out inside, and get enough vitamin D. These are some of the ways you can get arthritis pain relief despite the bone-chilling cold of winter weather.
Many people with arthritis swear by the pain in their joints as a predictor of rainy or cold weather. I used to hear people complain all the time that they knew rain was coming from the aching in their knees, says Pam Snow, 54, of Denver, who has arthritis. Now Im one of those people!
Snow has osteoarthritis in both knees. She typically manages her pain with exercise, diet, weight loss, and the occasional over-the-counter pain reliever, but when winter weather sets in, Snow faces an extra joint-pain challenge. I think its related to barometric pressure, she says. It definitely has made me more cognizant of the weather.
For Snow, arthritis isnt just a personal problem. As vice president for community involvement for the Colorado Arthritis Foundation, she travels the state educating others about the condition. So shes aware that theres very little scientific evidence to support her own experience, and that of the legions of others with arthritis who feel worse when the weather is frightful.
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Should You Move To Florida Or Arizona
Its a question that doctors hear all the time from arthritis patients.
People with chronic pain, if they cant get out as much and its so cold all the time or rainy or snowy then they think, Boy, Id like to go some place where the weather isnt quite so dramatic, Jamison says of his patients in Boston.
Though he doesnt advise against moving to warmer climes, he does try to offer realistic expectations. Theres no heaven on earth, he says. If you have awful back or neck pain theres a good chance that that pain will travel with you.
In fact, in Jamisons research, people from San Diego reported the greatest sensitivity to weather changes a surprise finding, considering that it had the warmest climate, compared to Nashville and the two Massachusetts cities.
San Diegans in his study noticed pain even with small changes in weather. You think of San Diego and the temperature is always mild it never gets too cold or particularly too hot but with just a small change, people with pain still reported that they could detect it, Jamison says. I think as mammals, we kind of adjust to our climate.
So its not always helpful to believe that whole myth of, Go to Arizona when you live in the Northeast and somehow your pain will be a lot better, Jamison says. We know that if you ask people to rate their pain in Minnesota or Arizona or California or even Florida, theres no one area of the country where youd say, Theres less pain there.
Applying Heat Vs Cold To An Arthritic Joint
Using heat and/or cold therapies on an arthritic joint is a simple, inexpensive alternative treatment that can help to alleviate pain, stiffness and swelling. Read:Alternative Treatments
Heat can relax muscles and help lubricate joints. Heat therapy may be used to relieve muscle and joint stiffness, help warm up joints before activity, or ease a muscle spasm.
Learn more: When and Why to Apply Cold to an Arthritic Joint
Alternating heat and cold. Some people alternate between heat and cold therapy. For example:
- A patient may be encouraged to use heat therapy to warm up a joint before physical therapy exercise and to use cold therapy after exercise.
- A person can use heat therapy in the morning to loosen up an osteoarthritic knee and use cold therapy to reduce swelling a few hours later. This process can be repeated throughout the day.
Cold therapy is recommended for certain types of arthritis that cause painful inflammation flares, such as gout and pseudogout. People with other types of arthritisincluding but not limited to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitismay benefit from both heat and cold therapy.
There are no universally accepted guidelines for when to use heat or cold therapy on osteoarthritic joints, and recommendations are mixed.16 People with osteoarthritis are advised to experiment with both heat and cold therapy to find what works best for them.7
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Keep Warm When Outside
Of course, you cant stay inside forever, even during the winter chill. When youre trying to avoid triggering your arthritis, its advisable to treat any outing as a potential moment for your pain to flare up. Its easier to leave the house unprepared than you may think even a quick trip to the mailbox or the car could potentially leave you with stiff joints and regret. When preparing to step outside, layering is key: first, you should have a pair of thermal undergarments under your regular clothes, and a hat and gloves to protect your extremities. If your arthritis is an obstacle to wearing gloves, mittens are a perfectly acceptable alternative.
By following these tips, you can keep yourself comfortable and protect your joints all winter long. That said, if arthritis pain is a constant struggle that affects your quality of life, it may be time to see an arthritis specialist near you. At OAA, the board-certified, fellowship-trained team at our Rheumatology Institute is highly-trained and ready to help you live life to the fullest.
Our Pain Management team is proud to have won Morning Calls Readers Choice Best Pain Management in 2021. If youre ready to take the first steps on your road to recovery in the new year, schedule your appointment with OAA today or call 973-6200 for more information.
Many Patients Claim Theres A Connection Between Weather And Arthritis
Though researchers are not sure exactly why arthritis pain might increase with weather changes, they suspect that certain conditions in the atmosphere, such as a drop in barometric pressure, can increase swelling in the joint capsule leading to pain.
Barometric pressure refers to the weight of the air around us. In good weather, barometric pressure is high. This pressure pushes against the body from the outside, helping to keep tissues including the tissues that surround our joints from expanding. In bad or stormy weather, barometric pressure drops so that there is less pressure to push against the body. This allows tissues around the joints to expand, putting pressure on the joints and increasing pain.
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Impact Of Barometric Pressure On Ra
I have a theory about why high barometric pressure makes my joints feel like they’re being pried apart by crowbars. It has to do with the effect of pressure on liquids. I figured this out one day as I was putting eye drops in my eyes. The drops, when I squeezed them out of the bottle, were big and heavy. One drop flooded my eye, and some of it ran like a tear down my cheek. But just the day before, the drops were compact and tiny, and I’d needed two to lubricate my eye.
It gave me pause. I’ve noticed something similar when I make my coffee with a cone filter and boiling water. One day, I have to fill the filter twice to fill up my 16 oz. go-cup. Another day, I only need to fill the same filter one and a half times to fill the same cup to the same level.
My little brain whirred and chugged. I started checking the local barometric pressure on the Internet each morning before using my eye drops and brewing my coffee. Sure enough, when the barometer was rising, or high, the drops were large and sloppy. I needed less water to brew my go-cup coffee. When it was falling, or low, it was the other way around.
What Causes Chronic Fatigue
Fatigue is one of the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. It can be one of the first warning signs of RA before the diagnosis is confirmed. For many patients, the onset of chronic fatigue symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis can be vague and difficult to categorize and may be attributed to other causes.
The cause of chronic fatigue can sometimes be difficult to identify because there are many factors to consider. Some of the different factors that cause chronic fatigue include:
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Poor diet and lack of physical activity
In addition to the regular rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, fatigue becomes even more chronic and debilitating when other medical complications are involved. Fibromyalgia, obesity, heart disease, respiratory disease such as COPD, and depression, are a few examples that can complicate and worsen the effects of fatigue.
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How Does Low Pressure Affect Weather
Low pressure is what causes active weather. The air is lighter than the surrounding air masses so it rises, causing an unstable environment. Rising air makes the water vapor in the air condense and form clouds and rain for example. Low pressure systems lead to active weather like wind and rain, and also severe weather.
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How Weather May Affect Joints
Scientists have done many studies on joint pain and weather over the years, but so far, none can say for sure what the connection is. Part of the problem is the studies themselves — many have used surveys of just a small number of people, which isnât a very reliable way to measure a link.
Still, there are a few theories about the relationship. One is that people with joint pain, especially arthritis, may be sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. How? It could be that when the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint is worn away, nerves in the exposed bones might pick up on changes in pressure.
Another idea: Changes in barometric pressure may make your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue expand and contract, and that can create pain in joints affected by arthritis. Low temperatures can also make the fluid inside joints thicker, so they feel stiffer.
You might also feel more pain when the weather keeps you from moving around as much as you typically do. People tend to stay indoors and lounge around more when itâs cold and rainy outside, and inactive joints can get stiff and painful.
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Understanding The Connection Between Arthritis And Cold Weather
While cold weather doesnt cause arthritis, existing arthritis symptoms like pain and stiffness may be made worse when the temperature drops. Researchers and numerous studies have evaluated the connection between cold weather and arthritis pain. Some studies have found a connection between barometric pressure and arthritis pain. Others found a direct link between temperature and arthritis pain, and even some found that the connection between arthritis and cold weather was strongest when coupled with high humidity. If thats true, then cold, wet weather is worst for your joints. Warm, dry weather, on the other hand, is best. Strong winds may even play a role in weather-related arthritis.
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Ways To Fight Chronic Fatigue
Fighting fatigue for rheumatoid arthritis patients can be a challenge. However, there are some ways to improve your energy levels and lessen chronic fatigue. Here are some of the things you can do to help fight chronic fatigue in your daily life:
- Exercise regularly
- Rule out medication side effects
- Seek counseling and support
Practice Some Gentle Exercise
If youre looking for ways to stay active without doing harm to your joints or causing a flare-up, try performing some low-impact exercises while staying warm inside. Practicing yoga is an excellent way for those with arthritis to stay fit starting out with simple, gentle steps, you can build strength and flexibility while avoiding any poses that put too much weight on your joints. If youre someone whose arthritis affects their hands and fingers, gentle hand stretches are also a great way to improve your mobility while at home keeping nice and warm.
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Don Light But Warm Layers
Many types of fabrics and the weight of some jackets or boots are off-limits for me with my rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. A too-heavy jacket or hat can irritate my joints and muscles. I make a point to only wear looser, lighter fabrics to avoid any extra irritation. Its also important to find fabrics that dont make me overheat or layer up because RA can make your temperature increase, which can get uncomfortable if you are going in and out of buildings with the heat turned up. You dont want to carry around heavy layers or get overheated and sweaty.
What Science Says About Rheumatoid Arthritis And The Winter
There are a few theories none officially proven floating out there as to why rheumatoid arthritis is worse off in the winter. As someone living with arthritis, all of these kinda make sense to me and probably contribute in their own way as to why I feel crummier in the colder months
- Some doctors and researchers theorize arthritis gets worse because of the drop in barometric pressure. This drop could cause the tissues like the muscles, joints, and ligaments to expand, putting more pressure on an already crowded joint and causing arthritis symptoms like pain and stiffness to worsen.
- Cold temperatures can affect blood circulation, leading to muscle spasms.
- Cold winter weather and shorter daylight hours trigger an emotional response called seasonal affective disorder, increasing feelings of depression and isolation. This, in turn, may intensify the perception of pain and discomfort from RA symptoms.
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What Causes Gout To Flare Up
Gout is a complex form of arthritis that can flare up suddenly and severely. It occurs as a result of having high levels of uric acid, which makes it easier for urate crystals to form. These sharp crystals can deposit in your joints, causing inflammation, swelling and pain.
“The most common trigger of gout is eating purine-rich foods, since high levels of purines can increase the amount of uric acid in your bloodstream,” explains Dr. Alam.
Gout-sufferers can help avoid flare-ups by avoiding foods rich in purines, including:
- Red meat
- Certain types of seafood, including tuna, scallops and trout
- Alcohol, particularly beer
- Fruit juices and other beverages that contain fructose
“Similar to rheumatoid arthritis, a flare-up of gout can be alleviated by using a cold compress on the affected joint, which helps reduce the inflammation that’s causing your pain, swelling and stiffness,” says Dr. Alam.
Does Damp Or Wet Weather Really Make Arthritis Pain Worse If So How
Donald A. Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, explains.
People with arthritis often believe that changes in the weather cause flare-ups of their disease. Decades of medical research, however, have failed to establish an objective relationship between arthritis severity and weather patterns. Moreover, detailed interviews with specific patients have yielded mostly anecdotes, and those who move to drier climates do not report major relief.
The specific idea of dampness affecting arthritis symptoms seems an unlikely mechanism for a number of reasons. The skin surrounding joints is rather impervious to water and most people stay dry indoors during rain anyway. In addition, arthritis patients do not experience dramatic changes in their symptoms when immersed in water . Wet weather may also be associated with other climatic conditions, such as decreases in barometric pressures. But even this connection seems implausible, given that much greater pressure swings are tolerated easily during plane travel or mountain driving in a car.
Another weather component is humidity, which might enter the body through the respiratory tract. But this seems an unlikely contributor because hospitalized patients are often given humidified air to breathe and this has little apparent effect on arthritis conditions. Furthermore, a long shower does not usually induce arthritis pain.
Answer originally published September 6, 2004.
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