Professional Opinion: Why do my joints ache before it rains?

rdamgen@islandpacket.comJune 2, 2014 

Nicholas Mihelic, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Sports and Spine Institute in Bluffton

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This week, Nicholas Mihelic, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with Sports and Spine Institute in Moss Creek Village, talks about why our joints and sinuses can hurt when it rains.

Question. When it rains, people often say their joints, sinuses, or bones, particularly if they've been broken in the past, feel more achy than normal. What causes this and is there anything that can be done to prevent or lessen the weather's effect?

Answer. It's a sunny day but your arthritic joint starts to ache or your sinuses hurt. Could there be a storm coming? Is "feeling it in your bones" an old wives tale, or can joint or sinus pain predict weather changes?

It is common to blame the increase or change in pain symptoms on the weather.

A Harvard pain management physician and researcher has interviewed many people with chronic pain in California, Tennessee and Massachusetts. Two-thirds of those interviewed were sure that the weather affected their pain. Most of those people said they could feel the changes in their pain before the weather actually changed.

However, there is no agreement among scientists that weather causes pain, or if there is a specific mechanism that causes pain. The most plausible theory points to changes in air pressure. Research has indicated that it is not cold, wind, rain or snow that causes pain, but that the thing that affects people the most is barometric pressure, which drops before bad weather sets in. With less pressure against the body, tissues may expand and put pressure on the already inflamed joint or affected area causing an increase in pain symptoms.

Although there is no definitive proof, this theory seems to make the most sense. In fact if you move to Arizona for your arthritis, you will likely find that your joints will ache just as much there before a storm as anywhere else.

There are things you can do to minimize weather change pain, such as keeping warm, wearing gloves and support hosiery to prevent swelling, and keep moving. The important thing to keep in mind is that weather-related pain is short lived and will pass as the barometric pressure equalizes with inside your bones.

Follow reporter Rachel Damgen at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.

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