In July, we saw temperatures hit a record-breaking 40°c in some parts of the UK. Climate change is having visible effects, and if the world continues to warm, this kind of extreme heat could become commonplace.
While some Brits revelled in the sunshine of the heatwave, those of us living with arthritis may have found it more uncomfortable than enjoyable. But why is this? Can arthritis flare up in hot weather? It appears so.
Hot weather and arthritis
Many people report experiencing a change in their symptoms due to the weather – and this doesn’t just apply to hot weather, but cold and damp weather too. It is unknown why weather affects arthritis pain, but it could be linked to barometric pressure (the pressure caused by the weight of the air above us).
According to the Met Office, high pressure often brings fine, warm weather. However, it can lead to prolonged dry periods and, in severe situations, heat waves. Low pressure, on the other hand, can cause unsettled conditions, including heavy rain, flash floods and storms.
But how does this relate to arthritis pain? It is thought that changes in barometric pressure can alter how tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues expand and contract, resulting in pain in the tissues that arthritis impacts.
One 2019 study funded by Versus Arthritis assessed how the weather affected more than 13,000 people in the UK with chronic pain conditions, including arthritis and fibromyalgia. It found that damp and windy days with lower pressure and higher humidity increased the chances of experiencing more pain than normal by around 20%.
The results of another study from 2014, which looked specifically at older people with osteoarthritis, revealed that, among the 496 weather-sensitive participants, 39.2% were sensitive to damp/rainy weather conditions, 30.2% to cold weather and 4.6% to hot weather.
Other factors and theories
On a very hot day or a cold, rainy day, you are less likely to be physically active. This decreased activity can worsen arthritis symptoms. Mood is also believed to have an impact on arthritis pain, and extreme weather can alter our state of mind, making us feel anxious, stressed or depressed. You may also find that in the summer, you are dehydrated and experiencing disturbed sleep due to the heat – both of these things can lead to increased joint pain.
Tips for staying cool in the summer heat
The key to keeping weather-sensitive arthritis pain at bay on a hot summer’s day is to stay cool. If you’re struggling, here are some helpful tips and tricks…
- Drink lots of water: It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how easily you can become dehydrated. 2 litres of water a day is generally recommended. That equates to 6 to 8 cups. If you’re forgetful, set reminders on your phone or use an app to track your daily cups. A reusable time-marked water bottle like this one from Hydratem8 may help you achieve your water goals.
- Wear the right clothes: When it’s hot, opt for white or light-coloured clothing. This will help to reflect the sun’s rays. Cotton is the coolest fabric to wear – it allows air to circulate and absorbs moisture. Other good lightweight, breathable options include linen and silk.
- Avoid rigorous activity: Whilst it’s important to stay active, don’t overdo it. This particularly applies to strenuous exercise. If you run, go out in the morning and evening hours when it’s cooler or head to an indoor pool for a light swim instead.
- Use your freezer: In the summer, the freezer is your best friend. Don’t just think ice and packs of frozen peas. You can freeze towels, a hot water bottle, socks or even bed sheets and pillowcases to cool you down.
- Strategically place your fan: If you’re using a fan, you need to think about where to place it to ensure cool air circulates the room. To push hot air out, point your fan outside, slightly towards the windows. Another great life hack is to place a bowl of ice in front of a blowing fan. The fan picks up the cool air coming from the surface of the ice, creating a cool mist as it melts.
- Create a cooling spray: Another way to stay comfortable in the heat is by applying a cooling spray to your face and body. You can purchase one or create your own. This homemade recipe from Loving Essential Oils combines peppermint, eucalyptus or basil oil with aloe vera gel and water. Simply pour the mixture into a spray bottle and enjoy!
- Chill beauty products: You can make some small changes to your skincare regime to stay cooler. Try popping your moisturiser and creams in the fridge overnight. When you apply them, you’ll experience a highly refreshing sensation!
- Hang a wet sheet: If your room is feeling hot and stuffy, you can quickly cool it down by hanging a damp or wet sheet in front of an open window. As the breeze flows through, the sheet will help to lower the temperature.
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