Wellness Articles

Is there any truth to the weather change/joint pain connection?

We can all tell that autumn is here.  Fall festivals abound, football is in full swing, Halloween decorations are out, the stores are already filling displays with Christmas decorations, and people are complaining that their joints ache.  What do achy joints and autumn have in common?  It depends on who you ask.  There has been for eons a theory that changes in the weather cause joints to ache more than usual.  One client of mine said to me this morning as it was raining, “Y’all might as well forget about a lunch break today.  The weather is changing, and the parking lot is filling up!”  Is there any truth to the weather change/joint pain connection?

In 400 B.C., Hippocrates made the first known correlation with changes in the weather and an increase in joint pain.  A theory that has stood the test of time is hard to dispute, but some researchers have tried.  Dr. Amos Tversky, a Stanford University psychologist, says that people’s enduring belief that their arthritis pain is intensified by changes in the weather is a myth.  He claims that human nature in all of us wants to find and follow patterns whether they actually exist or not.  He says that it is his job to de-bug human intuition, and he has found that we humans are good at pattern generation and are very good at forming hypotheses.  We just aren’t, in his summation, very good at testing our hypotheses. 

Other people, however, are more convinced that joint pain is indeed affected by the changes in the weather.  Dr. Frank Arnett, a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in the study and treatment of joints and joint disorders) from the University of Texas at Houston, says that the correlation definitely exists.  He says that the notion of weather changes and joint pain going hand-in-hand is real and that it goes even further than just arthritis.  He says that in his experience people with fractures that have healed can tell when the weather is going to change.  It is hard to argue with the many people who report that they can actually predict the changes in the weather, and Dr. Arnett refuses to.

From a standpoint of weather, the reason that many people feel more pain during periods of weather change can be explained by the fact that weather changes are associated with changes in barometric pressure.  Barometric pressure is the pressure that air exerts on all objects. It is called barometric pressure because the instrument which is used to measure the pressure is called a barometer. Most often meteorologists are talking about air pressure on the ground when discussing barometric pressure. If an area of low pressure exists, clouds and precipitation can be expected.  Dry places like Arizona have states of predominately high pressure which brings to them warm climates with low humidity and very little rainy wet weather.  This is why many people who suffer from severe arthritic conditions might even move to drier warm climates to avoid the ebb and flow of barometric pressure changes. 

Pressure makes fluid levels rise and fall.  Most of our joints are surrounded by fluid-filled capsules, so when pressure rises or falls it causes the pressure in our joints to rise and fall as well.  Those who suffer from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis feel the pain of pressure changes in a heightened sense because their joints are already inflamed and the pressure change just irritates them further.  Motion tends to lubricate joints, so it is helpful for sufferers to get moving as difficult as that might seem.  This is an area in which your chiropractor can be of tremendous service.  Chiropractors manipulate stuck, achy joints and the motion helps relieve the pressure inside the joint capsules.  If the pressure inside the joints is relieved so is the intense sensation of pain in most cases. 

Is there a definite connection between joint pain and weather changes?  I would have to say that I have been amazed at the accuracy with which some of my own clients can predict the weather.  You, however, can judge for yourself.  Treat your body well.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

A young man came to our office two weeks ago bent over in pain and unable to straighten his posture.  At first glance, we thought it was another classic case of an aggravated bulging disc.  We would have treated it as such until we took x-rays of his spine and discovered a very different situation and an often missed diagnosis.  I know this information might be a great candidate for the bank of useless knowledge for many, but no knowledge is useless and I feel compelled to share some information with you about a condition known as Ankylosing Spondylitis. 

Ankylosing Spondylitis, or AS, is one of several conditions which have a tendency to cause inflammation of the spine and are collectively called spondyloarthropathies.  These include psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, and arthritis associated with Chrohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.  AS is a form of spinal and sacroiliac joint inflammation.  The sacroiliac joints are two small joints at the base of the spine which are key in weight-bearing and become very painful when they are inflamed.  The condition causes substantial pain at times, stiffness in and around the spine, and left unchecked will result in permanent fusion or “cementing” together of the joints involved.  “Ankylosing” refers to the process of the fusing together of the spinal bones and “spondylitis” refers to chronic spinal inflammation.  The process of ankylosing eventually results in the complete loss of spinal mobility.

The symptoms most often experienced by those with AS include back pain or sacroiliac joint pain which is worse at night or after long periods of activity.  Often people with AS adopt a forward-leaning posture which naturally relieves the pain associated with the condition.  AS makes standing erect very painful, so curving forward eases this discomfort.  Curving forward, however, tends to compress the lungs and makes breathing sometimes difficult.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is thought to be inherited.  Nearly 90% of those with AS are born with the HLA-B27 gene.  Sophisticated blood tests have been developed to detect the marker for this gene, but it does not definitely predict that a person will develop AS.  The gene is not specific for the disorder.  For example, in the United States, 7% of the population has the HLA-B27 gene but only 1% of the population actually has AS.  Research is active in this area, and it is said that a negative HLA-B27 test is more useful in ruling out AS than a positive one is in predicting it.  X-ray is the gold standard for the diagnosis of AS since the spinal abnormalities it causes are very distinct and can be very easily seen on plain films.  This is one of the very reasons that x-ray is necessary in the treatment of people in a chiropractic practice.  If the aforementioned patient had been treated without x-ray, he would have been treated for a condition he doesn’t have and this diagnosis would have been missed.

Many people with AS are under the care of a medical doctor as well as under treatment with a chiropractor.  Medicines are used to control inflammation but, of course, come with their side effects.  A chiropractor can keep spinal mobility and flexibility for as long as possible and help to create better posture.  Gentle flexion/distraction techniques are available and are very helpful in treating this disorder.  Physical therapy and exercise are also helpful since AS tends to cause a forward posture.  Curving forward results in lung compression, so it is essential that extension exercises and those that expand the lung capacity are prescribed and practiced daily.  Stretching exercises help to improve overall flexibility.  Swimming might be described as the perfect exercise for those with AS and many other conditions because it avoids the jarring impact to the spine that many other forms of exercise create.  Of course, nutrition is also of utmost importance when trying to manage this and any other condition.  One specific area of focus nutritionally has been on leaky gut syndrome, or the inability to digest and absorb foods properly.  Information is available on the proper supplements to use in order to increase absorption of nutrients.  Some very beneficial ones are those that promote healthy bacterial flora and those that aid in digestion, specifically acidophilus and bromelain.  Any time the body is not using the food it is supplied with properly, any of a host of conditions might occur, and AS is one of these.

AS is not necessarily crippling or debilitating.  The main piece of advice for those who suffer from it is to become actively involved in your treatment.  Do all that you can to keep your body active, limber, and in good condition.  Work with a team of healthcare providers, and don’t limit yourself to just taking medications that might or might not be beneficial.  Keep a positive attitude, and treat your body well.