Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"I Was Feeling Great Until..."

“How are you feeling today?"

“I was feeling great until the cold, rainy weather started yesterday and caused my joints to hurt”

This is a very common conversation that I have with patients the day of or after we experience weather changes, especially those that involve rain, cold, and clouds.  This is not the patient’s imagination at all.  Patients with musculoskeletal conditions, such as arthritis, are more susceptible to experience increases in pain levels when the weather changes.  Patients may be attending therapy for a sports injury, post-surgical rehabilitation, balance impairments, and more.  With the addition of joint pain, secondary to weather changes, a patient could easily get discouraged and want to lay around and rest because the weather has now made their current ‘injury’ much worse.

When barometric pressure and temperature fall, as when a storm rolls in, the pressure against the body begins to fall as well. When this occurs, it is believed that the pressure change causes joint capsules and surrounding tissues to swell.  The swollen and enlarged tissues may be irritating the joints and cause associated pain.  Many of my patients know that getting heat at the end of a session makes them feel loose and relaxed.  The opposite is true with weather.  Colder outdoor temperatures can cause muscles, ligaments, and joints to become stiffer and more painful, especially when someone already has an associated musculoskeletal condition.

For example, it has been found that every 10-degree drop in temperature causes incremental increase in joint pain. Swelling then can cause inflammation and associated discomfort.  The same is true, that when the weather warms up and barometric pressure increases, pain relief may occur in the joints.

There are ways to help manage this increase in pain! Although you cannot change the weather there are things that you can do to ease pain associated with weather changes, such as:

First, stay active! Inactivity can make joints stiffer and more painful.  Many people think that rest will help to ease pain but this is usually not the case.  Stretching, walking, bike riding, doing yoga, working out in a warm pool (Like the two at PTW Lansdale), and many others are ways to increase flexibility and reduce occurrence of swelling in joints.  Give PTW a call and schedule a time to use our Alter G anti-gravity treadmills or deep water 94 degree aquatic therapy pools.  These are great low-impact ways to keep your joints moving and decrease overall pain.

Second, after a conversation with your primary care physician, taking an anti-inflammatory medication can help to decrease swelling in joints.

If you experience joint pain, keep moving, and always feel free to ask your physical therapist for suggestions on how to manage this pain.  Luckily, there are many ways to keep moving and your therapist can come up with an individualized way to manage weather-related pain.  This will allow you and your therapist to spend more time addressing the condition you started therapy for in the first place and get back to doing your favorite daily activities!

PTW’s Jackie Kern, DPT is a Staff Physical Therapist at our West Norriton clinic. For an initial evaluation, call Jackie at 610 630 0101 today!