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Beat the Heat: Humidity and Joint Pain

Chronic joint pain and inflammation can affect your mood in the best of scenarios, but when you combine it with the unflinching heat and humidity of the deep summer months, it can seem unbearable.  What is it about the mercury crawling upwards that affects chronic pain so dramatically, and is there anything you can do to make it through these sultry, sweaty months?

What’s so special about summer anyways?

Well, when it comes to your joint pain, summer is ‘special’ for a number of reasons. According to the Rothman Institute of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, humid weather can cause tissue to expand. When that tissue is already experiencing inflammation, this expansion can increase the pain response exponentially. In fact, any dramatic shift in weather can have an effect on pain—so the variations common to summer (think a summer thunderstorm bringing in a sudden cold front on a hot day), make it less comfortable for people with chronic pain.

Speaking of thunderstorms, another summer issue for those dealing with chronic pain is shifts in the barometric pressure. When barometric pressure changes quickly, it can cause the fluid levels in your body to fluctuate. This, combined with dehydration, which is much more common in the heat of the summer, can reduce the layer of protective fluid around your joints.

Additionally, the cartilage in your joints comprises a high ratio of water at its peak performance. When both the cartilage and the protective fluid in the joints is reduced, it’s a recipe for achiness.

summer storm rolling in barometric pressure changes

The final reason summer can make your pain feel worse has less to do with physiology and more to do with physicality. Plainly: it’s hot, and you don’t want to do things. When you reduce your movement and cut back on physical activity, your tendons and ligaments can stiffen up in response. This makes your joints a little ‘screamy’ when you do finally get up and get moving.  Heat cramps—painful involuntary muscle contractions—are a common summer complaint amongst chronic pain sufferers.

Aside from summering in the southern hemisphere, what are my options?

Hydration Hydration Hydration

Well, if you paid close attention up top, you probably realize that a lot of these issues have a common thread—hydration and fluids. It’s even more important in the summer to make sure you’re getting your proper intake of water or other hydrating fluids. And while the ‘eight glasses a day’ rule is easy to remember, it’s a bit of an old wives’ tale—there really is no one-glass-fits-all answer to how much you should be drinking.  According to the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, on AVERAGE, men should take in about 125 ounces per day, and women 91 ounces. However, it’s more important that you understand your own body’s needs and pay attention to its cues—things like:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry lips
  • Muscle cramps
  • Thirstiness
  • Infrequent urination
  • Dark urine
  • Drowsiness
  • Sunken eyes
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
reminder to drink water

Not a huge fan of water? While it is the most recommended option (and you should try to get at least SOME of your ounces in straight water) you can mix it up by adding cucumber or lime, trying coconut water for a tropical vibe, or adding low-sugar, high-electrolyte sports drinks into your repertoire. By paying close attention to how your body reacts to hydration, and the link between dehydration and pain, you can head off a pain attack before it begins, even in the most humid weather.

Activity: What, When & Where

In addition to your hydration, being mindful about your activity level can help minimize your chronic summer pain. Be strategic about your activity—if you know you’re going to avoid too much motion in the midday heat, plan for a brisk walk or a yoga session first thing in the morning, before the sun is baking down. Pick a shady path or spot to lay out your mat, and again (at the risk of beating a dead horse!) bring your water. If you have a gym membership or access to a public gym (check with local schools or YMCAs), now is a great time to fit in an indoor workout. If you have no other options, a few laps around the grocery store is a great way to keep moving—just focus on the freezer section! And finally, if you’re lucky enough to have a pool, getting in your laps is a great way to loosen your joints AND cool down. Two birds, one serene, blue stone.

woman practicing yoga in shade of tree outside

What to Wear

A couple of things to remember during a summer workout (no, we won’t mention hydration again!): first, wear the right clothing. Keep it light in fabric—both in color and material—to repel the most heat possible away from your body. And now is not the time for your best compression ‘fit. Your clothes should be loose-fitting and flowing away from your body. If possible, wear long-fiber, natural materials, like viscose from bamboo, linen, and some specific cottons.

Don’t Forget the Importance of Sleep!

Secondly, don’t forget that keeping yourself moving has additional benefits that will also help reduce summer pain: getting in consistent movement has been proven to improve your sleep. Inadequate sleep can be another factor in increased summer pain—long hours of daylight, warmer bedrooms, and patio beers all affect our ability to get enough ZZZs. Ensuring you’re getting some exercise, dropping the temperature at night either with a whole-home AC, a window unit, or bedroom fans, and being mindful about alcohol consumption (also a factor in dehydration!) will help you sleep away summertime chronic pain.

man sleeping

Winter is coming—but don’t wish for it too soon!

There are so many positive things about summer—lightning bugs, dining al fresco, weekends on the boat—that it should be a season everyone can look forward to. If your chronic joint pain is affecting your ability to enjoy the entire season, try these tips out. Summer may never be your favorite (Fall is just too amazing for that!) but it should be a season you can experience pain-free.


When all else fails in managing your pain—consult an expert!

You can always schedule a pain care or rehab consultation with a pain specialist at iSpine Clinics, when all else fails. We are here to help diagnose and treat the source of your chronic pain, or help you with physical therapy and rehabilitative services to get you back into life.