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Can aching joints really predict cold weather - Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 10/31/2013

OGDEN -- Former South Ogden Mayor George Garwood has lupus, an autoimmune disease affecting the body's organs and tissues. Because of the disease, he has pain in several of his joints, but the pain in his feet and one knee always seems to be worse just before a storm hits.

"As the storm gets closer and closer, I start to feel it more and more," Garwood said.

"My toes are so painful, they almost curl up. Even my hands get achy, especially if it's really cold. When I start to get the pain and the pressure in my joints, I know a storm is just a couple of days away. By the last day of the storm, I'm in my recliner with my electric throw over my feet."

Vicki Zuehl Tuschen, who grew up in South Ogden, said that when she was a child, she would get pain in her knees right before a storm would hit.

Although researchers admit they don't fully understand all that is involved in weather-related pain, one theory is that the falling barometric pressure preceding a storm might alter the pressure inside the joints, said Brian Vincent, a physician assistant at Ogden Clinic.

"The theory is that, as the pressure drops in the atmosphere, this allows the inflammation and swelling in the joints and soft tissues to increase, in turn causing pain," he said.

"Unfortunately, there is no evidence, scientifically, that this is true. There have been several studies done over the years attempting to prove this. However, the results are lukewarm."

Vincent said there are so many factors related to weather, such as barometric pressure, humidity, precipitation and temperature, that it may be a combination or a particular combination that might cause the joints to ache.

But many patients swear that certain weather conditions cause their pain to flare up, and some say their knees, hips, fingers and toes can be more accurate than a meteorologist.

According to the Weather Channel and AccuWeather's National Aches and Pains map, barometric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind changes tend to affect joints, especially the day before a storm or a sharp drop in temperature.

On Tuesday, Accuweather's Arthritis Index showed an increased risk of arthritic pain to go along with rain and falling temperatures.

"There is definitely an increase in the number of patients I see during the winter and stormy months complaining of increased pain related to osteoarthritis," Vincent said.

"Is there something truly related to the weather? Possibly. Personally, I believe there is, and it just has not been scientifically proven yet.

"I also believe there could be a psychological component as well. If the brain has been trained to perceive pain with incoming storms, it will, whether inflammation is present or not."

So, if cold weather increases pain, does warm weather make it better?

Although he still has pain in the summer, Garwood said it tends to be worse in the winter.

Vincent said many of his patients report that warmer weather tends to soothe the pain associated with arthritis. However, he said, there is no scientific data to support this.

Dr. Michael Hess, a Bountiful orthopedic surgeon, said he encourages people with achy joints to continue with low-impact exercises, such as biking, swimming and walking. As for medication, Hess said, anti-inflammatories as well as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate help.

Injections of cortisone and newer types of injections that include hyaluronic acid to produce joint lubrication have also been successful.

Tuschen said she swears by stinging nettles.

"When I was dating my husband, around age 20, we were up at our farm, and he wanted to check on an area of the river that goes through the property," she said.

"There is only one way to get into and out of this area, and it was covered in stinging nettles. We traveled into this area on a motorcycle with me being on the back, wearing shorts. The nettles stung my legs, (as we went) in and then again back out. Because of the many times I was stung, my knees swelled up and were burning intensively, but only for a short time, about 20 minutes."

The burning, itching and swelling went away in that time period, she said, and from that time on, she has never had any aching in her legs or any other joint to predict the weather.

Cold weather also seems to raise the risk of heart attack, sudden cardiac death and stroke. A study done by the European Society of Cardiology in September showed that, for every 10-degree drop in temperature, heart attack risk rose by 7 percent. The cause may be the result of thickening blood and constricting blood vessels, researchers say.

Vincent said, "Most studies have conclusive findings that cold weather does have an effect on those with cardiovascular disease."