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Why Do My Joints Hurt When It’s Cold?

Posted on Friday, September 15, 2023
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by AMAC, D.J. Wilson
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Woman holding head in pain in winter attire with text next to her

Does winter cause achy joints?

Let’s be clear. Cold weather is not the cause of arthritis, a medical term used to describe disorders that affect joints. However, some individuals may experience stiff and achy joints during cold weather changes. Those who do often ask, “Why do my joints hurt when it’s cold?” Unfortunately, the topic is not fully understood. It is also not fully known why some people are more affected by weather changes than others. However, theories exist which may explain this phenomenon. The most popular explanation is related to changes in barometric pressure. Please read on.

What is barometric pressure?

Barometric pressure is the measurement of air pressure in the atmosphere. Per Setra, barometric pressure is “specifically the measurement of the weight exerted by air molecules at a given point on Earth.” Barometric pressure continually changes with weather. It can be measured using an instrument called a barometer which provides data to analyze atmospheric pressure and predict weather. Air pressure is generally higher in the winter because the air is colder, and the molecules stick closer together. However, low pressure is commonly associated with inclement weather. Barometric pressure usually falls when snow or precipitation approaches.

How does lower air pressure affect the body?

When air pressure drops, it pushes less against the body. This, in turn, causes tissues to expand and put stress on joints. The expansion can compress joints and cause stiffness and pain. Lower (colder) temperatures also make joint fluids thicker and can worsen symptoms; thereby reducing mobility and causing pain.

Why do individual responses to weather vary?

This is not fully understood. While barometric pressure clearly affects the joints, it’s important to note that bodies are unique. Thus, other factors may also come into play regarding how we react and feel in various weather conditions. For example, hydration can affect a person’s joints. When a person is dehydrated, their joints stiffen up and toxins remain, resulting in inflammation and joint pain. This may possibly heighten one’s pain.

Are people with arthritis more likely to feel pain in cold weather than those without arthritis?

People with arthritis or related medical conditions typically experience joint pain and stiffness. Per the Arthritis Foundation, frigid temperatures can slow blood circulation, cause muscle spasms, and heighten pain sensitivity. Though cold weather is not responsible for causing arthritis, it may certainly exacerbate aches and pains in individuals with preexisting arthritis.

Conclusion

Many people ask, “Why do my joints hurt when it’s cold?” While barometric pressure clearly comes into play, it is possible for preexisting medical conditions, such as arthritis, to complicate one’s physical response to changes in weather. It is also possible for individual factors, such as hydration, to impact cold/pain reactions. Clearly, there is much more to be explored and learned on the topic. For information on a related question, “Why do my joints hurt when I’m sick?” click here.

This article is purely informational and is not intended as a medical resource or as a substitute for medical advice.

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