EHS Corporate Care
Is it an an old wives tale that achy joints mean rain?
“The phenomenon of people being able to forecast precipitation due to the level of their joint pain is real,” according to Dr. Javad Parvizi, director of clinical research at the Rothman Institute at Jefferson Medical Center in Philadelphia. “Since joints contain sensory nerves called baro-receptors, they often react when there is low barometric pressure, meaning the atmosphere has gone from dry to moist, as when it is going to rain.”
If you aren’t feeling like the local weatherman, but still have joint pain, you could be suffering from something as mild as an injury to something more significant such as a degenerative arthritis. For most executives over 50, the rubbery cartilage that serves as a shock absorber to our joints becomes stiff, loses elasticity, and ultimately is more susceptible to damage and degeneration as we age. As the cartilage wears away, tendons and ligaments stretch, bone rubs on bone, causing pain. This wear and tear can occur to nearly any joint but generally impacts the fingers, hips, knees, and spine.
While exercise can aggravate existing joint problems, it’s generally not the cause. Old injuries may enable fluids to build up in the joint, causing soreness. A red, hot inflamed joint could mean a bacteria (like the one causing Lyme Disease), or that a virus or fungus might be attacking the joint, causing infection.
Joint pain may also be caused by bursitis – inflammation of the bursae – a fluid-filled sac that cushions and pads bony prominence, allowing muscles and tendons to move freely over the bone.
Inflammatory arthritis is another common cause for joint pain. There are nearly 100 types of arthritis, but having a swollen, achy joint doesn’t necessarily mean you have one of them.
“Many people have other conditions that can aggravate arthritis,” says Jason Theodoskais, M.D., MS, MPH, FACPM, author of The Arthritis Cure and a preventive and sports medicine specialist at the University of Arizona Medical Center.
For example, gout is a form of arthritis that can lead to osteoarthritis and involves growth of bone spurs, inflammation and degeneration of cartilage in a joint. Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease involving abnormally high iron storage in the body causing heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and causes stiffness and pain in the joints and requires aggressive treatment with a physician, usually a rheumatologist.
Relief for joint pain varies. For the short term, ice, ultrasound, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and electrical stimulation are best. But for the long term, lifestyle changes like weight loss may be needed to reduce stress on weight-bearing joints. According to Patience White, M.D., MHA., chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation, “every pound you gain is the equivalent of four pounds of pressure across your knees. Losing just a little bit of weight — even 5 or 10 pounds — can make a huge difference in reducing pain in the knees.”
Gentle rhythmic active range of motion (AROM) exercises such as swimming or yoga may also help reduce inflammation in the joints, says Stephen Paget, M.D., of the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation. “The goal is to glide the joint surfaces, maintain the range of motion, and protect joint surfaces from excessive pressure.”
For knee joints, leg lifts or bicycling will help strengthen the muscles that cross the joint, providing better support.
Anti-inflammatory medications, and supplements are useful in reducing inflammation. While studies of glucosamine and chondroitin are conflicting, there are some demonstrated benefits, plus research on the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3s found in fish oil supplements is positive. Anti-inflammatory herbs such as ginger or turmeric have been reported to help relieve pain.
Don’t ignore joint pain that lasts longer than seven days as it may indicate more than a minor injury. Schedule an appointment with your doctor at EHS Corporate Care for the correct diagnosis, to reduce pain and protect your mobility.
Authorized for use by John P. Mamana, M.D.