by Anthony Roberts
Whether you’ve just started training, or you have a couple of decades under your belt, you’ve probably experienced joint pain. And although the cold of winter months can cause additional stiffness and add time to your warm-ups, the summer months can actually make joints hurt worse than they do in colder weather.
This is due to changes in heat (up) and barometric pressure (down). Joints have baroreceptors in them, and when ambient air pressure changes, the baroreceptors respond by altering the level of fluid in the joint. Unfortunately, this means fluid levels go down, while tendons and ligaments expand. Generally, when all of these things occur at once, inflammation will go up, and discomfort followed by pain will occur.
If you’ve got especially sensitive baroreceptors, or you’ve worn through a lot of cartilage from lifting heavy, you might find that your joints hurt immediately before thunderstorms. Again, this is the same phenomenon, barometric pressure dropping while humidity goes up. Some people even find that they can “predict” thunderstorms by the way their joints feel.
But it’s not just the barometric pressure and heat that causes joint pain, but also dehydration. The cartilage in your joints has a high water content. When you sweat (which obviously increases in the summer), dehydration can occur. Dehydration decreases the concentration of fluid in the joints, and this results in less lubrication and cushion in the joints, which can also aggravate those with existing conditions.
Unfortunately, the higher temperatures and humidity of the summer can also elevate ozone levels, and that too can cause inflammation, which (again) causes joint pain. So basically, everything about the summer can make your joints hurt.
It’s worse if you suffer from chronic pain syndrome, multiple sclerosis, complex regional pain syndrome, or even just asthma, because all of these conditions can make you more sensitive than others to both temperature as well as barometric pressure fluctuations.
So what can you do about it?
Depending on the joint and the severity of the pain, the usual first course of action is rest. That’s somewhat impractical for most people working a 9-5, as most employers are loathe to hand out sick days for joint soreness. Ice or heat is normally indicated in addition to rest, although I’m not generally a fan of heat, whichever one makes the pain go away is fine.
Compression garments can also offer some relief, but again, from a pracical standpoint…well, they’re impractical. Nobody wants to wear a compression garment all day, or even all night, and especially not in the summer. On a personal level, I find that summer joint soreness isn’t always in the same joint – often it will be in my lower back, but occasionally it will be in my hips or elsewhere. And let’s be honest, nobody is going to buy a compression garment for each pair of joints. At least I’m not.
I’m not a doctor, so obviously I’m not recommending medication, but normally moderate/severe joint pain can effectively be treated with over the counter NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory medication). Here, I’m talking about stuff like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium. Personally, I like Excedrin, which is a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine..and occasionally ice.