ADVICE: Why does my body hurt so much?

Is joint pain a sign that you are getting old?

Maja Begovic 3 minute read September 14, 2020
Joint pain

Are aches and pains just a part of getting older? Getty

Dear Asking For a Friend,

I turned 50 this year, and already I’m starting to feel muscle stiffness and joint pain when it’s cold and wet outside. I’ve been a runner all my life and I stay active throughout the year, but I noticed that my muscles get little stiff and achy in the fall and winter. Is this an early sign of arthritis, or am I just getting old?

Signed, Stiff and Achy


Dear Stiff and Achy,

Muscle stiffness and joint pain are common complaints when the weather gets colder, but science on the fence. One study debunks the connection, but another report links aches and pains to weather changes. Dr. Robert Inman, medical director at the University Health Network’s Arthritis Program says that “the biology underlying this association is not well understood.”

Science may not always untangle every cause and effect or explain why we feel the way we feel on some days. One possible explanation is that when cold temperature strikes, more blood flows to the heart and lungs, which causes the vessels in the joints to constrict. When there is less blood flow, those areas of the body feel cold and stiff.

Less exercise and inactive joints can also lead to circulation problems, more discomfort and pain. At any age, our limbs crave the good stuff — they thrive in heat and benefit from movement every day.

Another theory is that “changes in barometric pressure can cause an inflammatory response in the joints,” Lauren Farrell, a physical therapist and clinic director of Professional Physical Therapy in Hoboken, N.J., told SELF. She adds that while this response could lead to increased joint pain “due to changes in circulation and possible nerve fiber sensitivity,” there’s not a lot of evidence to back this up.

Persistent joint pain, weather-related or not, can be a sign of arthritis

That said, body aches and pains may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

“Persistent joint pain, weather-related or not, can be a sign of arthritis,” says Inman. “If there is swelling of the joint in addition to pain, there is a greater likelihood of inflammation in the joint. In those cases of persistent joint pain, you should consult with their healthcare provider.”

Whether your aches and pains are triggered by arthritis or the onset of cold weather, there are steps you can take to help relieve muscle stiffness and flare ups. Stretching before and after exercise, staying active, eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water to help lubricate your joints are all things that can alleviate soreness. You can also try heating pads or a hot bath. Vitamin D and fish oil rich in omega 3 can reduce inflammation and joint pain, while an over-the-counter pain reliever and a good old ice pack can reduce any swelling. But if pain and discomfort persist, consult with your doctor.

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