Many people know someone who claims their joint pain can predict the weather. But is it true?
Although there’s not much scientific proof that changes in weather amplify chronic pain, some correlations have been found. Patients with joint pain—caused by rheumatoid arthritis, for example—often report that damp or cold weather intensifies their symptoms. One survey found that 67 percent of patients with osteoarthritis believe the weather heightens their pain. Another study of people with chronic joint pain found similar results.
“The likely reason one experiences pain during cold temperatures is that their muscles, capsules, and ligaments are not as warm and loose as they are in warm weather,” said Dr. Thomas Schuler, a spinal surgeon and founder of the Virginia Spine Institute.
“When the human body is cold, all of these tissues contract down making motion more painful and aggravates areas affected by arthritic conditions. Cold weather does not per se make symptoms worse, but it creates conditions where it is more likely that any given patient will have more soft tissue restrictions and less motion resulting in more pain.”
It makes sense, then, that patients also report a link between cold weather and scoliosis pain. The abnormal spinal curvature of scoliosis causes an uneven distribution of body weight, which means the joints on one side of the spine bear more weight than those on the other. Although the scientific findings are mixed, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to a connection between changes in weather and scoliosis pain. Some people with the condition describe their back pain during the fall and winter months with words such as “terrible,” “agony” and “nightmare.”
Why Cold Weather Affects Scoliosis Pain
Scientists still don’t fully agree why weather affects chronic pain, but the leading theory is that barometric pressure is to blame. The most telling detail is that weather-related joint pain typically kicks in before the rain even starts falling.
“If you really listened carefully to Grandma or someone who had arthritis, they actually told you it was going to rain,” said Dr. David Borenstein, president of the American College of Rheumatology. “More likely than not, they were usually correct.”
Barometric pressure—the weight of our surrounding atmosphere—often drops before bad weather arrives. As the air exerts less force on the body, tissues can expand, putting extra pressure on damaged joints. Even the smallest changes in barometric pressure can trigger joint pain, allowing people with scoliosis or other joint problems to sense when a winter storm is on the way.
Combating the Cold with Heat Therapy
Staying warm and active is the key to beating weather-related scoliosis pain, patients say. Many turn to hot baths, electric blankets and layered clothing to encourage circulation and relax the constricted tissues that aggravate stressed joints. Other effective remedies include:
Soaking in hot water. Some patients find relief by swimming in a pool or soaking in a hot tub three times a week. The hot water keeps back muscles relaxed and helps soothe inflamed joints.
Taking an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfate, which are readily absorbed through the skin and help regulate inflammation, flush out toxins, and keep nerves and muscles functioning correctly. Pour two cups into a warm bath and soak for at least 15 minutes.
Using hot packs. A hot pack, warm towel or heating pad applied to the joint for 20 minutes at a time can temporarily ease weather-related pain. Over-the-counter heat wraps are another option, offering relief for up to eight hours at a time.
It’s not easy to stay active when you’re suffering from scoliosis back pain—and sometimes heat therapy isn’t enough. Patients seeking drug-free treatment often find relief with ScoliPAIN Plus, a natural dietary supplement that uses curcumin and black pepper extract to reduce pain levels in 40 percent of patients with scoliosis.
For patients who notice a correlation between cold weather and scoliosis pain, the winter months can be a difficult time. But with the right treatment, people with scoliosis can stop predicting the next big storm and get back to their day-to-day routine.