People have long believed that there is a link between the weather and our well-being. These days, the prevailing theories as to why so many people seem to get sick in the winter months are that the cold weather makes our immune systems less effective, and that people tend to spend more time together indoors with the windows shut, making it more likely that they will spread infections between one another.
But what about physical pain? Is there any truth to the age-old adage that some people can physically feel when bad weather is approaching? As it turns out, there just might be.
Numerous studies have been conducted to examine the link between weather and physical pain, and while their results vary in terms of what aspects may affect pre-existing conditions, the majority tend to agree that weather does play a role. But while it may be the cold weather that we notice, it appears that we are actually being affected by barometric pressure.
While we can’t feel barometric pressure in the same way that we can feel temperatures, it does have an effect on the gases in our bodies. Low-pressure systems, which are typically associated with cooler air, gives the gases in our body tissues more room to expand. This change can be so miniscule that people with healthy tissue won’t feel any effects.
On the other hand, people with pre-existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia have less leeway for this sort of expansion. While the expansion of the tissues throughout the majority of their bodies will go unnoticed, any areas affected by their condition will be placed under more pressure than they can handle, resulting in pain. So while it is not the actual temperature of the air that causes the pain, cold air is indicative of low barometric pressure, which is why pain & cold are so closely associated.
What to Do
There’s nothing you can do to change the barometric pressure, and while we have just stated that cold itself is not directly the problem, heat can be a solution. Using heat packs, taking hot baths, and keeping the house warm will all help to reduce swelling and stiffness. Keeping the affected areas elevated will also alleviate some of the pain by facilitating the flow of blood and lymph.
Exercise is also an effective way to alleviate these symptoms. Even though there appears to be a link between pain and barometric pressure, this is likely exacerbated by the fact that people tend to be less active in winter and spend more time sitting down inside, which will lead to stiff muscles and joints. Any sort of exercise you can undertake in the winter months will help counteract this, whether it’s going to an indoor pool, going for walks with friends, or even just making an effort to move around more when at home. Whatever you do, make sure that you keep moving.
So while it seems that the cold itself does not directly cause pain, it can be a helpful indicator that it’s not just all in your head. Knowing this, you can make sure that you stay warm, keep moving, and you should experience a noticeable difference.
Feel free to reach out to our team of expert Winnipeg Physiotherapists to get a head start on the upcoming cold temperatures!