You, Osteoarthritis & the Weather
Listen to What Your Body is Telling You
BY: DR. JOHN McELLIGOTT, DR. JOHN’S MEDICAL SOLUTIONS
A 2007 STUDY FROM TUFTS UNIVERSITY found every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponds with an incremental increase in arthritis pain. In addition, relatively low barometric pressure and precipitation can increase pain. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens. They suspect certain atmospheric conditions increase swelling in joint capsules. An Arthritis Index based on a proprietary forecast is available at AccuWeather.com.
So, what is osteoarthritis (OA), and how do you know if you have it? OA is a type of joint disease that results from the breakdown of joint cartilage and underlying bone. The most common symptoms are joint pain and stiffness. This definition is universal in medicine. It is a natural result of living on earth. Earth’s gravity keeps us from floating away, but it also puts pressure on joints all over the body. The more you use your joints (heavy lifting, a joint injury at some point in your life, athletics, or just a very active lifestyle) the more likely you’ll develop OA.
Tufts University, one of the best academic institutions in the US, listened to stories from patients and used that information to develop the science that explains why weather affects arthritis pain. Although the study was small, it concluded that changes in weather definitely affect joint pain in individuals with OA. This validates what drivers have been telling me for more than 30 years, while taking care of them.
How does weather affect joint pain, and how can a driver predict that it’s going to rain soon? A driver with OA in one or more joints, most likely the hips and knees, feels the changes in the weather for one or more of these reasons:
Barometric pressure – A decrease in barometric pressure means there is less atmospheric pressure to hold down swelling. This causes tender joint tissue to swell, causing pain.
Temperature – Warmth sooths joint tissue and eases pain. Just the opposite, cold temperatures shrink and stiffen joint tissue, pull on nerves, and cause pain.
Humidity – An increase in humidity is often associated with approaching rain. If the rain is associated with a cold front, the environment cools and joint pain increases.
Keep in mind that age and/or previous joint injury are contributing factors that affect every joint from your neck to your toes.
Take Control of Your Situation
The next time the weather gives your joints grief, try these tips for relief:
Dress Warmly – When it’s cold, layer up your clothes and gloves.
Hydrate – Especially in dryer climates. Even mild dehydration could increase joint pain.
Lose Weight – Weight loss will likely ease the intensity of OA.
Stay Limber – Check with your doctor to make sure it is okay, then EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE! Yoga or stretching regularly is a great way to increase flexibility and maintain joint health. You can do both in the cab of your truck.
Exercise – Every day for at least 15-20 minutes, the more vigorous, the better. An exercise log keeps you accountable and documents the negative effects should you slack off. Depending on the source(s) of your pain, following are other things to try:
Walk or jog around your truck (about 31 laps equals one mile) or use the trails at TA-Petro locations
Low-impact exercises are easy on the joints
Push-ups can be effective
Hip and shoulder rotations are good
Even shoulder shrugs can help
Finger massages and opening and closing your fingers (make a fist and then open your hand all the way). Do this as often as you can.
Head tilts and turns work neck joints
Tighten (for 10 seconds) and relax all your major muscle groups 3-4 times a day.
Water Exercise – When possible, working out in a warm pool is especially good for loosening stiff muscles, strengthening joints and easing discomfort. Water provides resistance, while lifting weight from aching joints.
Resistance Exercise – Create a workout routine and utilize it at least 3-4 times each week. Equipment is not necessary to get adequate exercise. But you can bring along stretch bands or straps (stretch band systems especially designed for truckers are commercially available). A pair of dumbbells or even equipment from your rig can also work. Don’t forget about the well-equipped Fitness Rooms at most TA-Petro locations followed by a hot shower.
Anti-inflammatory Medication – Arrange to visit your doctor. Discuss your joint pain and stiffness, and find out if anti-inflammatory medication is right for you.
The Arthritis Foundation also has a handy predictor to help monitor your joint pain level based on local weather conditions:
So, when a trucker tells you it’s going to rain, get colder, or the humidity is rising, he or she is right 90% of the time. This also explains why Snowbelt dwellers find it beneficial to migrate to warm, dry climates like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California during the coldest, dampest months of the year. By listening to what your body is telling you, you can better control the pain of OA. Learn more at docjmd.com.