Why Do Joints Hurt More In The Winter?


Young man having a knee injury while jogging outside in sunny winter mountains


Young woman having knee pain

You have probably heard it before: those with arthritis claim they can predict the weather, especially if it is going to rain. I am sure everyone has a self-proclaimed meteorologist in his or her family. Researchers have looked into this phenomenon over the years to determine if weather is to blame for some of the surges in pain in people with arthritis during the winter. While some studies are inconclusive, several suggest a definite relationship between pain and both the change in barometric pressure and ambient temperature.


Barometric pressure is the amount of pressure our atmosphere exerts on us at a given point in time. It is constantly changing and has a big effect on the weather we experience. A drop in pressure is associated with rainfall and colder weather. There is a lot of info and several blogs on the internet that say the decrease in external pressure to our bodies allows the internal pressure to rise and this results in swelling and pain. It seems to make sense but the research doesn’t consistently support this. Some studies find that the increase in barometric pressure results in increased pain. They acknowledge the flaws in their own study but seem to find more flaws in the studies that suggest the opposite. The common denominator is that the change in pressure seems to affect what we feel in our joints that exhibit osteoarthritis.


Cadaver studies1 have found that the hip joint gets a healthy dose of stability from the atmospheric pressure. The change in atmospheric pressure affected the hip joints in the study such that there was a slight loss of joint stability, which caused a very mild (8mm) shift of the joint and could potentially be a reason for pain. Pressure changes external to our bodies have also demonstrated, in the lab, alterations in cellular processing of little pain signaling proteins.

Another reason our less than perfect joints feel more pain around this time of year could be the effect that the cold temperature has on blood vessel dilation/constriction and changing the flow of inflammatory cell production and transport and the overall healing processes.

Also, research2 suggests increases in pain with the colder temperature could be related to a change in viscosity of the joint fluid, which lubricates many of the body’s joints much like oil lubricates a car’s engine. A car takes longer to “warm up” when driven in the Pacific Northwest in January vs Southern California in August.

It is helpful to know that there are reasons for increased pain we may be feeling with the change in climate but it is even more helpful to know what to do about it! As physical therapists, your gurus in movement efficiency and functional wellness, we can work with you physically and provide education that can help ease your pain this winter. Give us a call or schedule an appointment online with us at your convenience.

1 Wingstrand H, Wingstrand A, Krantz P. Intracapsular and atmospheric pressure in the dynamics and stability of the hip: A biomechanical study. Acta Orthop Scand. 1990;61(3):231–5. doi: 10.3109/17453679008993506.

2 Laborde JM, Dando WA, Powers MJ. Influence of weather on osteoarthritis. Soc Sci Med. 1986; 23(6):549-554.

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