How to Relieve Heat-Induced Inflammation
If you have arthritis, you may have noticed that weather affects how you feel. Both hot and cold temperatures, humidity and barometric pressure changes can affect how your joints feel and increase your pain levels. Here's some basic information on the why of this phenomenon, as well as some possible strategies to help you find relief, courtesy of the Arthritis Center of Lexington.
Weather and Pain
People who have chronic pain are more susceptible to the negative effects of weather because they have more trouble regulating their systems. Your joints have baroreceptors — cells that can detect changes in the barometric pressure. The nerve endings in your tissues are also sensitive to pressure changes, and your muscles, tendons, and ligaments expand when the pressure changes. At the same time, barometric pressure changes can decrease the amount of lubricating fluid in the joints, increasing inflammation and pain. Dehydration can make this worse. Finally, ozone levels tend to be higher in summer, which can increase pain and inflammation in sensitive individuals.
The research on associations between weather and pain has mixed findings. One study found that women with arthritis had a definite response to changes in barometric pressure. A second study found that two-thirds of people with musculoskeletal problems reported increased pain and stiffness related to weather changes. Other studies have found no correlation. However, if you are one of those sensitive individuals, you might experience pain in your joints from an arthritis flare-up.
If you are one of those weather sensitive individuals, you can try some self-management strategies. Among them:
- Don't spend a lot of time outside when the weather and hot and humid. If you have to be outside for some reason, take periodic breaks so you don't overdo it and go inside periodically to cool off.
- Keep your home cool and decrease the humidity with a dehumidifier or central air conditioning.
- Eat properly. Summer is a time when you can lose electrolytes (minerals in your blood and tissues) through sweating. Fruits and vegetables will help your supply your body with what it needs.
- Make sure you're well-hydrated. Water is a much better choice for keeping your fluid levels up than sodas or other alternatives.
- Dress for the heat! Wear light colors and loose-fitting fabrics in natural fibers such as cotton and linen.
- While it might seem counter-intuitive, heat can also help relieve arthritis pain. A warm shower or bath helps soothe stiff, aching muscles and joints. Warm paraffin baths are helpful for hand pain.
- For acute pain, cold is often more effective. Wrap ice in a towel to protect the skin and apply directly to the painful area for 20 minutes at a time or plunge your hands into an ice water bath.
When weather seems to be affecting your joints, it's important to communicate with your doctor. You might need an adjustment in your medications or other therapy. At the Arthritis Center of Lexington, we have more than 15 years of experience treating people with arthritis and related chronic pain conditions. For those suffering from arthritis, talk to your doctor today about how specialized rheumatology care can help you get back to the life you love.