One of the nation’s leading joint specialists, Javad Parvizi, M.D., Ph.D., of the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, says you should believe your grandmother, friend or co-worker when they tell you it’s going to rain — even if it’s simply because their aching knees, hips, hands or shoulders “say so.”
Dr. Parvizi, who is also director of clinical research at the Rothman Institute at Jefferson, and associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, explains that even though individuals can experience pain fluctuations with the slightest change in barometric pressure, most patients report significant increases in pain before and during severe changes in weather, like summer downpours and thunderstorms.
“The phenomenon of people being able to forecast precipitation, especially rain, due to the level of their joint pain is real,” says Dr. Parvizi. “It is not in the patient’s head. There is science to back it up.”
Weather-related joint pain is typically seen in patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other arthritic conditions. It can affect any load-bearing joint, but is most common in hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and hands. The joints contain sensory nerves called baro-receptors which respond to changes in atmospheric pressure. These receptors especially react when there is low barometric pressure, meaning the atmosphere has gone from dry to moist, like when it is going to rain.
“When pressure in the environment changes, we know that the amount of fluid in the joint or the pressure inside the joint fluctuates with it,” says Dr. Parvizi. “Individuals with arthritic joints feel these changes much more because they have less cartilage to provide cushioning.”
Dr. Parvizi says that sometimes the pain is due to inflammatory mediators around the joint, like with rheumatoid arthritis conditions and can often be helped by keeping the joints warm or icing them (depending on preference), massage therapy, and applying pain killing creams and ointments. Other treatments may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), site-specific steroid injections, and long-term use of certain supplements like Omega-3 (which is used to reduce inflammation) and glucosamine and chondroitin, which have been shown, in combination, to significantly reduce arthritis pain and maintain healthy cartilage.
For patients who have suffered a long time and exhibit signs of end stage arthritis (no cartilage left to cushion the joint), Dr. Parvizi suggests that joint replacement should be considered.
“Our goal is to get that painful little weatherman out of the patient’s joints while treating the root cause of their condition.”