The Therapist Is In...Rains & Pain - Is your body a reliable forecast?
The Therapist Is In...
Rains & Pain - Is your body a reliable forecast?
by Shannon Murphy, MPT
Chances are that you, or someone you know, can tell when wet weather is on the way. People with arthritic joints or recent fractures often complain of increased pain when the skies get cloudy. And while the association between weather and comfort dates back to the days of ancient Greece, there isn't much more agreement about the topic now than there was over 1500 years ago.
The Pressure Theory
The most common explanation for the phenomenon relates to barometric pressure. Wet weather is associated with a drop in atmospheric pressure, which can affect the pressure on fluid and air spaces in your body. When joints are degenerating or inflamed, those pressure changes may trigger pain and stimulate pressure receptors more easily than in healthy joints.
Science vs. Your Grandmother
Numerous studies, however, have tried to make a scientific connection between weather and symptom patterns without conclusive data. And, interestingly - hydrostatic pressures (like those in a swimming pool) don't produce the same anecdotal effect. It is likely that buoyancy and movement offset pressure effects in the water case -- as well as the fact that most people with arthritis stick to shallow depths and not deep-water scuba dives! Some researchers also point to the depressive mood of cold, rainy days as a culprit in lowering pain thresholds. But at the end of the day - weather affects people differently and trends are not strong enough for generalizing to a large population. Your body has its own truth!
Pack your bags?
What if you're one of the people that feel miserable in the rain & snow? Some people physically relocate to drier, warmer climates in an effort to beat Mother Nature. And for some people, that can make a substantial difference in their quality of life - especially when nice weather makes it easier to exercise, get regular sun exposure, and experience natural elements that improve both mood and health. Not everyone, however, has the inclination, finances or social support to relocate. What then?
No surprise, but living a healthy lifestyle in any climate is key. Getting regular amounts of modest exercise, staying hydrated (with water-lose the soda and limit the coffee), eating a clean, natural diet and embracing the positive in your life can make a world of difference in everything. More tangibly, however, there are a number of little tricks you can use to take the pain out of rain.
* Develop an indoor exercise routine - like riding recumbent bike while watching a favorite TV program ... gets your legs loose, distracts your focus, and is weather proof. Need help getting a regimen together? Consult a PT!
* Fight fire with fire... and water with water. Take a regular aquatic exercise class - in a warm, indoor pool if you can find one... or get a partial wetsuit. Buoyancy trumps wetness.
* Can't stand anything wet? Consider a dehumidifier and a small space heater (which usually provides fast, dry heat) for your favorite room. Invest in warm, wicking fabrics and keep your feet, head and neck bundled to retain the warmth. Just remember that super-arid conditions can parch your skin and throat... so put away your sauna equipment at night and lotion up.
* Make sure your Vitamin D levels are adequate, particularly in the winter - deficiency (below normal) and insufficiency (normal, but suboptimal) can increase pain perception in some people and is easily treated with supplements. Talk your doctor about testing and treatment.
This series of columns are by Shannon Murphy, MPT, Owner/Director of BodySense PT. 9 Saint Paul St, 3rd Floor, Boonsboro, MD 21713. 301-432-8585 phone, 301-432-1987 fax, firstname.lastname@example.org.