Predicting the weather from joint pain is an old wives’ tale, but now researchers have found solid science behind it. More than 60 percent of people suffering from osteoarthritis report an effect from rain, barometric pressure, temperature, and other weather conditions on their symptoms. Scientists confirmed this by comparing reported pain levels with weather records. Because they used pain reports from a previous study, the influence of expectation—patients already primed to pay attention to the weather subconsciously perceiving their pain as worse when they expect it to be worse—was minimized.
The effect of weather, particularly barometric pressure, was small, but no less real to the patients. It’s not clear why weather should make a difference. Arthritis happens when the cartilage protecting the joints wears away, whether because of infection, injury, or simply with use over the years. The bones grinding together, without the cartilage to cushion them, is what causes arthritis pain. Because cartilage degrades over time, arthritis is common in older people.
The pain and stiffness is usually worse in the morning, and a little light exercise at night can help make mornings more bearable. Sitting in one position for a long time can exacerbate joint pain, while shifting helps avoid it. Physical activity is good, but certain types of exercise can do more harm than good: running, high-impact aerobics, and anything involving repetitive motion such as tennis can make the joint pain worse. Low-impact aerobics, on the other hand, can help alleviate the pain, as can stretching exercises and strength training. Pilates can also be good exercise for people with arthritis, and may help with the stiffness.
Medical treatment uses non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and other painkillers, combined with physical therapy. Although some doctors have recommended medical marijuana for patients with arthritis, new studies show no sign that it does any good. The active ingredient in cannabis can relieve pain in some conditions, but arthritis pain works in a way that is not affected by it. In severe cases, surgery can be performed to treat arthritis pain. There is currently nothing that can be done to restore the cartilage, but joint replacement surgeries, which remove the damaged joints entirely and put artificial joints made from synthetic materials in their place, are common.