If your joints are groaning loudly these days, go ahead and blame the cold weather. In some people, the changes that bring frigid temperatures may worsen inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and joint pain, affecting the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and hands.
Researchers aren't sure why cold weather makes us so stiff and sore, but one theory, based on a small study, is that inflamed joints swell as barometric pressure drops. The swelling irritates the sensory nerves around the joints, causing pain.
In colder weather, the body conserves heat by allowing more blood to travel to the core organs such as the heart and the lungs, according to osteopathic physician Ronnie Mandal, an internal medicine specialist at Swedish Covenant Hospital.
"When this happens, typically the vessels in the periphery (like arms and legs) vasoconstrict, which means the limbs are receiving even less blood," Mandal said. "The joints end up being colder, which in turn leads to more joint discomfort." Moreover, the sensory receptors around the joints are most reactive when there's low barometric pressure, or the atmosphere has gone from dry to moist, as if it's about to rain, Mandal said.
Web sites such as mediclim.com will send e-mail alerts to those suffering from weather-related health conditions - migraines, asthma, heart disease, diabetes or arthritis - 24 hours before troublesome weather changes arrive.