Hot weather and humidity can cause muscle aches and joint pain in people of all ages. If you’re struggling in the heatwave, read this…
Hot weather brings with it many good things: ice cream vans, trips to the lido, the feeling that you’re on holiday without having to leave the UK. But one downside, for many people, is the fact that increased temperatures can exacerbate body aches and joint pain.
This might sound like the kind of problem that only affects people of your granny’s age, but Twitter is currently rife with people in their 20s and 30s complaining about heatwave-related aches and pains. According to one 2015 survey, meanwhile, more than half of British adults aged between 16 and 64 experience joint pain during the summer months.
Clearly, something’s up. But why does the summer make our bodies hurt – and what can we do about it?
Unsurprisingly, scorching temperatures make it more likely that we’ll get dehydrated. If you haven’t drunk enough water during the day, your body will start to struggle to perform many of its essential functions – which can, in turn, make you feel achy.
Water is also an important component of the connective tissue (cartilage) surrounding our joints, so it’s essential to stay hydrated if we want our joints to move smoothly against one another. Drinking lots of water allows nutrients to move more easily through your blood and into your joints, helping them stay healthy.
The government’s Eatwell guidelines recommend that we all drink six to eight glasses of water a day whatever the weather, but it’s worth drinking more during a heatwave to avoid dehydration. Carry an eco-friendly reusable water bottle with you at all times, particularly if you’re about to attempt public transport – we’ve rounded up some stylish options here.
Many people experience heat cramps after spending long periods of time in a very hot environment – particularly if they’ve been exercising or otherwise putting strain on their muscles. Symptoms include sweating more than usual and experiencing involuntary spasms in major muscles on the thighs and legs, arms and abdomen.
The exact causes of heat cramps are yet to be established, but it’s thought they could be partly due to dehydration, as well as the loss of electrolytes through sweating. Electrolytes include important minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which help our muscles function properly.
When we sweat, we lose electrolytes and some of these minerals in high concentrations, and this can lead to muscle cramps.
If you’re experiencing heat cramps, rest in a cool place and gently stretch your muscles. You can buy electrolyte drinks in supermarkets and gym vending machines, but unless you’re a serious endurance athlete, you’ll probably be fine with just drinking lots of water (although if you want to make your own electrolyte drink at home, there’s a good DIY recipe here).
Several studies have found a connection between joint pain and the weather, although definitive causal links have proved tricky to establish. What is known for sure is that joints contain sensory nerves called baroreceptors, which respond to changes in atmospheric pressure.
As a result, changing pressure in the air can cause the amount of fluid in a joint or the pressure inside a joint to fluctuate – so if you’re already susceptible to joint pain, humidity may exacerbate it. One Dutch study cited by Harvard Health Publishing (the media branch of Harvard Medical School) found that rising barometric pressure and humidity can make joint pain and stiffness worse, while other research has shown that higher humidity can be linked to increased pain and stiffness.
If you’re experiencing serious and sustained joint pain, make an appointment with your GP. But if the humidity is just making you feel a little more stiff and sore than usual, try going for a swim. Not only is taking a dip the perfect way to cool down during a heatwave, swimming is often recommended by doctors as a way of tackling joint and back pain. We’ve rounded up the UK’s loveliest lidos here.
If you find that your legs ache when it’s especially warm outside, this could be down to something called vasodilation. When we get hot, our veins enlarge in size to increase blood flow to the skin. This process helps keep us cool by circulating heat away from the central organs and out towards the body’s surface, where it can then be swept away by sweat and breeze.
However, as the heart pumps faster to send blood to the skin, some people will experience more blood accumulating, or ‘pooling’, in their legs, creating discomfort and swelling. According to the US-based Advanced Vein Center, if you experience this, you should make sure to keep exercising in the summer, avoid sitting or standing for long periods and elevate your legs when you can.
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