Are rheumatism more painful in winter?
Popular belief is that people with rheumatism suffer more in cold, humid weather. The ancients even claim that osteoarthritis plays the role of a barometer: those who have it can predict the arrival of rain or frost just by feeling the pain intensifying in their joints. In China, the two ideograms making up the word rheumatism mean wind and wet. Japanese TV, for its part, offers weather-health programs that warn viewers of the pain to be expected when the weather turns bad. It is commonly believed that joint disease is more painful in winter than in summer. But what about?
More painful osteoarthritis in winter: Myth or reality?
This question of the effects induced by temperature changes on the joints has stirred the scientific community since the dawn of time. Already the father of medicine, Hippocrates, was interested in the phenomenon more than 2,000 years ago in Greece.
A whole series of studies have been carried out since to see if osteoarthritis wakes up in wet and cold weather.
Researchers followed 129 adults, over 40, suffering from hip arthritis. They questioned them online, at a regular pace, over a period of 90 days, crossing their sensation of pain with the weather conditions of the corresponding days. They concluded that only large temperature variations influence the level of pain.
Other researchers have been interested in osteoarthritis of the knee. In 2016, these Australian scientists followed 345 people with an average age of 62. They noted worsening knee pain in 171 participants during their study, but could not correlate this evolution of the pathology with temperature, humidity or atmospheric pressure. It must be said that it has never been less than 10 degrees during the observation period, the researchers are well aware that their work could give different results if it were carried out in more severe climates.
A study by the University of Utrecht, carried out in 2014 in 6 European countries, focused on patients with fibromyalgia. It has shown that temperature or rain have an influence on the pain and fatigue experienced by these patients, even if this influence is difficult to quantify. Researchers nevertheless claim that there are physiological factors independent of psychological state that make some people more sensitive than others to changes in atmospheric pressure.
Other Australian researchers interested in people who have suffered fracture, also found an increase in pain when the atmospheric pressure drops.
These studies, and others, have provided scientific findings, but they have not formally settled the debate on the links between rheumatic pain and the weather.
A recent study confirms the existence of a link between osteoarthritis and atmospheric variations
It is quite different for the study published in 2019 by the University of Manchester in the very serious journal Nature. This research attests and explains the link between joint pain and wet weather.
British researchers formed a sample of 13,000 people. They followed step by step, during 6 months, 2,658 patients suffering from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. These patients communicated their daily feelings to them on a smartphone application made available to them. The application made it possible to assess the level of pain, while collecting weather data using the phone's GPS. The study showed that the combination of humid weather and low air pressure results in an increase of 20% in joint pains.
Professor William Dixon, who heads the Arthritis Epidemiology Center at the University of Manchester, is categorical: humidity is bad for osteoarthritis.
« While your chances of having painful days are 5% when the weather is average, your chances are 6% on wet, windy and cold days ».
The professor goes so far as to say that these findings may prompt meteorologists to give pain forecasts alongside air quality forecasts, to help people with chronic pain plan their activities by performing more difficult tasks on days when pain is less severe ».
How to explain the impact of bad weather on joint pain ?
Several hypotheses are advanced
The cold is a major stress for our body. We are homeotherms, that is to say that our temperature is uniform (37°) and when this temperature increases, we speak of fever, it is a phenomenon of inflammation. The onset of cold and winter is conducive to the onset of diseases.
In osteoarthritis, cold and humidity can cause variations in density in the structures that surround the bones such as tendons or muscles, resulting in friction within the joints.
Another possible explanation: atmospheric conditions act on the nerve endings that surround the joint and modulate the feeling of pain. The cold and humidity would thus put pain receptors on edge. Conversely, high pressure would trigger stimulation of skin receptors suitable for inhibiting pain, as acupuncture does.
Last way of understanding the phenomenon: the capillary micro-vessels contract with cold and reduce the blood supply to the muscles which, deprived of oxygen, harden, become inflamed and painful. The whole metabolism slows down and the pain sensation increases. Conversely, heat has the effect of relaxing the muscles, relaxing the tendons and increasing vascularity, which relieves the joints.
So many ways to explain that the symptoms of osteoarthritis worsen with the onset of winter.
But beware: if the cold and the humidity increase joint pain, the opposite is not true. A warmer and drier climate is not enough to eliminate the pathology. Otherwise, people in hot countries would not suffer from rheumatism, which is obviously not the case.
Issue: degradation of cartilage affects one in two people after 50 years
Osteoarthritis, also commonly called rheumatism, is the most common joint disease: more than half of people have it, to varying degrees, after the age of 50. And given the aging of the population, we can expect an increase in the number of patients.
The disease is characterized by premature wear and tear of the articular cartilage. Cartilage is the resilient, resilient structure that covers the bone ends to allow them to move. In cases of osteoarthritis, the cartilage cracks, it crumbles and eventually disappears; consequently, the two bony ends, which meet in the joint, rub against each other and become deformed; the synovial membrane which lines the inside of the joint becomes thicker, synovial fluid is lacking. In short, the system loses its lubricant.
And since the joints are used for movement, it becomes difficult to move and move around. The body stiffens, mobility causes pain, especially in the morning when waking up, sometimes with some forms of bone crunching.
The disease often affects the knees, hips, shoulders, hands and spine. But it is especially the cervical vertebrae that are prone to osteoarthritis because of the great strain on the neck on a daily basis and also because of the weight of the head. In 75% cases of osteoarthritis, the cervical spine is affected.
Arthritis is a particular osteoarthritis located in the cervicals. It causes pain that can sometimes go down to the arms. If nothing is done to take care of this pathology, it can lead to complications.
Osteoarthritis, localized in the shoulder, causes chronic pain, physical stiffness and can even cause functional impotence.
Certain factors predispose to the disease: age, of course, but also sex, women are more often affected than men and heredity. Among the risk factors, the practice of too intense sporting activities such as football, judo or boxing should be singled out. There is also the practice of classical dance which exposes the hips. The trades of mason, farmer and mover also increase the risk of osteoarthritis.
And then there is overweight which increases the mechanical stress exerted on the joints, particularly that of the knee: a weight loss of 10% can reduce by more than 28% the handicap of an obese person suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. Losing a few kg is enough to reduce pain and improve functional recovery.
You can't cure osteoarthritis, but you can prevent the disease
No treatment has yet really been proven to slow down the degradation of cartilage or regenerate it. Research is working on the subject, in particular using stem cells. But so far, it's just relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as pain and stiffness.
Drug treatments, such as paracetamol analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs, can be administered. You can inject corticosteroids, you can use patches or gels. Sometimes we are forced to dop certain patients to place them a hip or knee prosthesis.
Side natural remedies, one can resort to herbal medicine, using in particular nettle which is a natural anti-inflammatory, blackcurrant leaves, horsetail, mountain larnica. Or even wintergreen essential oil, or devil's claw. Physiotherapy can also be used to help regain some mobility in the joint affected by osteoarthritis.
Without forgetting to take care of the diet: everyone knows, for example, that turmeric is good for the joints. A diet rich in omega-3, copper, vitamin C and E and antioxidant trace elements nourishes the tissues of the joints and therefore helps protect them. Sufficient 1.5 L should be drunk as dehydration is a major cause of mechanical inflammatory pain.
As the popular saying goes: Prevention is better than cure.
A tip to avoid seizing your joints: do not remain seated, without moving, because the immobility stiffens the body. The less you move, the more the joints weaken and become unstable, with degradation of the cartilage as a result. Because the lack of physical activity decreases the blood supply to the muscles and reduces the oxygenation of the cartilage. To give yourself movement is to activate your metabolism, stimulate your blood circulation and the production of synovial fluid.
Walking, cycling and swimming are the most recommended endurance activities, to be practiced at least twice a week.
Many exercises can also be done at home to improve joint function and help them withstand stress better, by strengthening the muscles around them. See in particular the article by Cervi-Care on Yoga. And the accessories that will help you gently practice stretching your muscles, spine, neck etc. Stretching your muscles strengthens them and protects your joints.
But the most important thing to avoid is to take bad postures. Working hunched over at a desk in front of a computer, for example, tenses the muscles of the back and neck, or even the shoulder, causing damage to the affected joints. It is essential to relax these muscles and allow them to regain their flexibility. Maintenance of spinal and joint mechanics is essential. Cervi-Care accessories, such as the cervical relaxation hammock for example, will help you do this.
Sedentary lifestyle, incorrect work positions, fatigue are all factors that aggravate muscle tension. What put the joints to the test and risk causing degeneration of the cartilage, therefore osteoarthritis.
You should also know that the consequences of bad posture are aggravated by the cold, because the muscles are doubly traumatized. They risk becoming blocked, as in the case of stiff neck or lumbago, for example. It is therefore especially necessary to take care of your body during the winter. Adopt good postures with your back straight, head held high, avoid certain gestures or habits such as wearing high heels which promote osteoarthritis of the knee. And keep the joints warm, even if it means taking a good bath after outdoor exercises.
It is urgent to change our attitude towards the disease
Joint pathologies are not inevitable. Let us maintain our good health through a life program which respects our body and its needs in terms of rest, nutrition, oxygenation and relaxation.
On Cervi-Care, you can find products that can relieve your pathology, for example arthritis, by doing a search.
Do not deprive yourself of what will help you achieve this goal!