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Arthritis and the Weather- What's the Connection?

Ask Kay Wilson this question and she will tell you emphatically, YES!!!

"There's no doubt that the weather affects my joints. When it's cold and rainy I feel especially achy. I can even tell you when bad weather is getting ready to approach. Gloomy and overcast weather makes me feel particularly bad. I know some of the experts don't agree. But I know what I feel. I've lived on the Gulf Coast in the Houston and Louisiana area all of my life. When I go out to visit my son and his family in Arizona, however, I noticed a big difference in how I feel. The hot dry climate seems to really agree with me. Or perhaps it's just because I'm happy to be around my grandkids. :-)"~Kay

If you research you'll find studies that support both sides. Some studies suggest that there definitely is a weather connection. In fact, on weather.com you can even check to see how you're going to feel during the upcoming weather days. An interactive map helps you to see how the weather may affect you depending on where you live or where you plan to travel. Though Houston doesn't seem to be the best area of the country, it is also not the worst. Houston seems to fall in the middle of the chart for aches and pain.

And yes there is research to back up the claim that the weather is making your arthritis flare-up. A 2014 study of people with osteoarthritis (OA) published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders asked participants if and how weather influenced their pain. Of the 712 people who answered the survey, 469 (67%) said they were weather sensitive. It turns out that weather-sensitive people with OA experience more joint pain overall than their non-weather-sensitive counterparts.

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found strong links between humidity, temperature, and joint pain. The bottom line- wet, winter days are no fun. And here in Houston, we have a lot of humid days. This winter we seem to be having a lot of colds days also.

Changes in barometric pressure can also be to blame for the achiness many people experience. That’s why Aunt Myrtle will tell you there is a storm coming before you even realize it. The good news is, most people report that once a front arrives the pain will begin to subside.

Okay, so unless you are a weather Genie that can somehow magically change the weather, there's probably little you can do. However, if you do find that you experience more aches and pains during certain types of weather, there are ways to help you feel more comfortable.

Hit the Road

couple with RV

If you can get away from the weather do so. Take an extended vacation or maybe move to a warmer, drier climate. That is at least for the winter months. Ever wonder why there are so many people moving south in the winter? Dealing with snow and ice is just part of the issues. For many people, they simply want to feel better.

“Blanche suffers from rheumatoid arthritis,” Bill told me. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. “We noticed that the winter months in Chicago were especially hard on her. Likewise, we decided to go on the road.”

Bill and Blanche are one of 89 million couples who has purchased an RV. And a number of them have decided to RV full time or at least half of the year. These people are often known as snowbirds. They are winter travelers looking for a warmer and more comfortable climate. In Texas, they are often referred to as Winter Texans.

“We keep a small condo in Chicago. After all, we have a lot of family members there. We spend the warmer and drier months back home. In the winter we become Winter Texans. We choose spots in south Texas that are drier and warmer than other areas.”~ Bill

You Don’t Have To Be Retired However

The assumption that snowbirds are wealthy isn’t always true. While many snowbirds are retired, some may still be working or be semi-retired.Additionally, technology has allowed a number of people to have a more flexible work life. This allows them to be on the road and travel where they want and when they want.

There are a lot of opportunities for semi-retired folks also.

They’re called “workampers” and they typically take up seasonal jobs in RV parks, theme parks, lodges, and other tourist attractions in close proximity to their winter home. This allows them to afford the little extras that make their new life more pleasurable.

“I can’t imagine being fully retired. I mean what would I do all day? Working part-time allows me to get to know more people in the community. The extra cash is our “mad money” for taking side trips and exploring.~ Samuel

But What If I Can’t Or Don’t Want to Travel In The Winter

Let's face it the lifestyle of an RV or snowbird is not for everybody. So what do you do if you suffer more arthritis pain in the winter? There are a number of natural ways to help with your arthritis pain. Let's explore a few.

Massage Therapy

lady getting massage

Massage Therapy is an umbrella term covering many different techniques and healing modalities. When most people think of Massage they think of lying on the table in the spa relaxing to soft music. But the light touch that you often get in a spa environment may not be the best for your arthritis symptoms.

Tiffany Field, Ph.D., a research psychologist at the University of Miami Medical School says that massage can result in a significant reduction of pain for people with all types of arthritis. Having regular massage is a great way to manage your arthritis pain during the dreary winter months.  

However, according to Ms. Field, a pressure that's too light can actually cause more anxiety and raise your blood pressure causing you to tense your muscles and creating more pain in your body. Likewise, a very deep massage can also create more pain. She states that you should opt for a moderate pressure massage. Moderate pressure stimulates relaxation, the heart rate goes down, the blood pressure goes down,” she says. Find a massage therapist who specializes in working with older people with arthritis.

Rumors have it that Bob Hope had a massage every day and that's why he looked so well into his later years. Wouldn’t that be great! Of course, most of us can't afford a massage every day.

Learn how to massage yourself. There many tools available that can help. Some have heat or vibration. Try them before you buy, however. Some may offer a massage that's too deep and may hurt. If you have a partner trade small massages daily. Karen and her husband massage each other nightly while watching their favorite programs on TV. Karen likes a shoulder massage while Tom likes foot reflexology. They watched some videos to learn different techniques.

Doing a little bit of massage especially on your more sensitive areas every day can help. During the winter months try to schedule a massage with a professional at least once a week if possible. Many therapists offer special pricing for clients who come weekly. They may also offer shorter sessions to focus on a problem area. This can make regular massage more affordable.

Exercise

older lady exercising on balance ball with help of physical therapist

The problem is, when we're hurting, most of us do not want to exercise. We use our arthritis as a great excuse not to exercise. But the truth is, exercise is one of the best tools we have to fight arthritis pain.

In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, lack of exercise can actually make your joints more stiff and painful. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you find the right exercise plan for you.

Consider joining some of the many specialized programs available in Houston for seniors. Programs like silver sneakers and 50 moving forward can help you get started. Carol joined the local Y in Kingwood and discovered they had a special program for people with chronic pain. Because of her rheumatoid arthritis, she signed up right away.

“It's the best thing I ever did,” said Carol. “I can't believe how much my pain has decreased.”

The key is to move and keep moving. Set a timer when you're watching TV or reading a good book to remind you to get up and stretch and move around. Even if it's a nasty day outside, walk around your house a few times. It may seem silly at first. But it's going to go a long way to helping you feel better and that's what really matters. The old saying "use it or lose it!" has a lot of value.

 

Yoga and Tai Chi are great activities to help keep your body in good condition. The slow and gentle movements are usually pretty easy on the joints. You can even join classes online nowadays.

So, if the weather is pretty nasty outside and you don't feel like going to the gym or a class, sign up for an online program. Invite a neighbor or two to come over and enjoy the class with you and have a cup of coffee or tea afterward. You'll get the benefits of the exercise and the social interaction. Both have been shown to be good for your body and your mind.

Kathryn Watson
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