Why Do Old Injuries Ache When It Rains?

Can your grandmother’s achy knee really predict when it will rain? Science says yes. Find out why the weather wreaks havoc on more than the morning commute.

It seems crazy to think that the weather can cause an old injury to ache. But, studies have confirmed that weather can have an impact on the way your body feels. One group of researchers found that changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature correlate with the severity of arthritic knee pain. Another study noted that weather triggered migraines in over half of the participants.

Weather-related pain often occurs at the point where a bone was broken or a joint was injured. Knees and ankles are the most common. Scientists don’t know for sure why weather causes pain, but barometric pressure seems to play an important role. When a storm is brewing, the barometric pressure drops. This change is detected by the body, causing soft tissue to swell and fluid around the joints to expand. The expanding and contracting of muscles can also irritate nerves and cause pain. It seems most noticeable in people who suffer from inflammation, or who have fluid on their joints.

How can I ease the pain?

Changes in weather are inevitable, so while you may not be able to eliminate weather-related pain, there are steps you can take to alleviate it.

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  • In cold weather, staying warm is an effective way to ease joint pain related to weather. Turn up the heat, sleep under an electric blanket, or warm your clothes in the dryer before wearing.
  • If you tend to swell, wear compression socks or gloves at night if you have trouble with fluid in your joints. Pain sufferers in humid climates can seek relief indoors where there is less water in the air.
  • Regardless of climate, stay hydrated; dehydration makes you more sensitive to pain.
  • Exercising is another effective remedy, as moving reduces fluid and removes stiffness.

If you anticipate aches and pains because of pending weather, be proactive. Talk with your medical provider about taking anti-inflammatory medicines or supplementing your diet with Vitamin D, fish oil or glucosamine to ease joint stiffness.

“There are a number of things we can do to help patients,” said Jay R. Lieberman, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “First, they can take anti-inflammatory medications, and we can prescribe physical therapy and a home exercise program — and that’s what we start out with.

“If further treatment is necessary, we may use cortisone injections and platelet rich plasma — and additionally, now there is some interest in using stem cell injections — to reduce inflammation,” added Dr. Lieberman, who also is a hip and knee joint replacement expert at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC.

By Heidi Tyline King

If you’re in the Los Angeles area and are in search of a primary care physician, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit www.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment to schedule an appointment.