Weather and Arthritis Pain

Yes, the cold and humidity can make your joints ache.

Can you feel a storm coming in your knees? So can lots of people with arthritis. Some doctors think that these stories of weather causing joint pain are old wives’ tales, but science is backing up the phenomenon.

Are You Weather Sensitive?

Some people are more sensitive to weather than others. So you may feel more stiff and achy in the cold more than your neighbor. That doesn’t either of you is wrong, it just means that we don’t perceive things the same.

A 2014 study of people with osteoarthritis (OA) published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders asked participants if and how weather influenced their pain. Of the 712 people who answered the survey, 469 (67%) said they were weather sensitive. It turns out that weather-sensitive people with OA experience more joint pain overall than their non-weather-sensitive counterparts.

A 2011 article published in European Journal of Pain found similar results in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The researchers looked at nine previously published studies of people with RA and concluded “pain in some individuals is more affected by the weather than in others, and that patients react in different ways to the weather.”

Which Weather Conditions Are Worst?

If you combine results of the various studies, the general consensus is that cold, wet weather is the worst for inciting arthritis pain.  Terence Starz, MD, rheumatologist at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center in Pittsburgh, may have summed it up best with this quip he shared from one of his patients, “The frost is on the pumpkin and the pain is back in my joints.”

Changes in barometric pressure – a measure that refers to the weight of the air – seem to be more important for pain levels than the actual barometric pressure. Meaning that either a cold front or warm front coming in can ramp up the ache in your fingers. But once the weather has settled in, your pain will even out.

A 2015 study of 810 people with OA published in Journal of Rheumatology found significant links between humidity, temperature and joint pain. The effect of humidity on pain was stronger when the weather was colder. In essence, they found that wet, winter days are no fun.

A 2015 study of 133 RA patients published in Rheumatology International found that their disease activity (swollen joints, pain) was lower when their days were sunny and dry.

Why Does Cold Rain Make You Hurt?

Scientists don’t know for sure why changes in weather can make some people hurt, or why it affects some people more than others. But they do have a few theories.

Dr. Starz believes at least some of the increased pain comes from decreased activity. “We know that physical activity relieves arthritis pain. And when the weather is unpleasant, people tend to hole up inside. That inactivity can lead to more pain.”

Other scientists offer physical reasons behind the pain. Changes in barometric pressure can cause expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues, resulting in pain in the tissues that are affected by arthritis. Low temperatures may also increase the thickness of joint fluids, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

Dr. Starz agrees, “The mind-body connection is strong. If warm sunny weather makes you feel better psychologically, you’ll probably feel better physically as well.”

Related Resources:

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

16 thoughts on “Weather and Arthritis Pain

  1. I have osteoarthritis. I am quite comfortable in the cooler temperatures. When the season changes to warm spring and hot summer, then my joints are very uncomfortable, and makes me miserable.
    The heavier barometric presssure actually eases my pain.
    Are there others who experience this as well?

  2. Cold weather is more painful for my mom. We all family started serving more to her. Doctors prescribe more medicines, will have to take care more in cold season.

  3. My muscles, tendons, and bone injuries hurt very badly when the humidity is high like 84 and above. The cold weather in the winter is not as bothersome – I would actually feel relieved. But I believe also when moisture is in the forecast such as rain or heavy snow then I ache terribly. No pattern or specific reason – I know I ache with pain mostly as mentioned above.

  4. I am 79 years old. I have osteoarthritis. The cold rainy snowy really make my pain worse. My fingers especially. Haven’t found any arthritis medication that really helps my pain.

  5. I have osteoarthritis in my spine. Mine seems worse during our British Summer when the weather changes quickly from sun to rain

  6. I have Osteoarthritis in my big toe. Right now, it’s very humid and warm with a rainy day in the forecast and I’m experiencing the worst pain in that joint. I too, have noticed that I actually had less pain during the cooler and colder months than in the peak of summer. The pain I’m feeling is what lead me to this thread as I was on the search for an answer for this. I was under the impression that the cold made pain worse. I thought maybe there was something wrong with my arthritis! 🙂

  7. Right before storms snow and rain and when it’s hot and muggy out, takes all I got not to shoot myself.
    I pray for the storms to come for when they happen my pain eases up enough to handle.

  8. I am 39 years old, and I too am a slave to the weather so to speak. I have OA, first diagnosed in my spine, but has spread basically everywhere over time, about 15 years since diagnosis. Suspected to have RA also, but doctors who suspect it, will not test for it because I have no health insurance to pay for tests(and stupid me didn’t go to doctor at points when I did have insurance because I wasn’t bad yet). Both OA, and RA run hardcore in my family. I have always had a harder time with cold and wet. Summer and warm/hot temps used to be my “good season”. Hot and humid only used to slightly bother me. Now, in the last 2 years, even the summer is bad for me. I thought last summer was a fluke. With this summer I now know it was not. It only used to be extremely low pressure that really bothered me. Now either extremely high or low makes me want to crawl in a hole and die. If the pressure hovers between 29.8 and 30.1, that is my least painful time. Anything else is bad. So I wish I could find and answer why. Or even help someone else find out why. At least if it was still just the cold that gets me, I would still have a “good season”! LOL I wish everyone the best of luck!

  9. When the barometer is low, my sore places feel better. When the pressure is rising, they feel worse. I believe it is that joint capsules have their own pressure, and are affected by the barometer–being squeezed a little by higher pressure, or relaxed by lower pressure.

  10. Vacationing in Florida from cold/dry Montana, and I immediately noticed more joint pain. Maybe some weight loss would help.

    1. I have OA, probably had it 10 years now. Getting worse every year. Had both knees replaced 3 years ago, now wearing ankle braces without which I could not walk. I have back issues as well. I only have a slight bit of arthritis in my hands which does not really bother me for the most part. Yesterday, some bad rainy front came thru and I had so much pain all over with the joints, I think it went one step further with headaches and diariah. I could not function anymore so I went to bed. Today is better, but not 100% yet. This has happened before in summer with high humidity, but not to the severity of this episode. It is awful!!

  11. WOW! I used to think I was the only one w/arthritis that had more of an issue with heat than cold until I read these comments. The older I get, the worse it is. I live in AZ now, and before I came here I was told the dry climate would help….NO IT DOESN’T! Please don’t move here just because an M.D. tells you this…you’ll pay the price from Mar – Oct

  12. I am 78 yrs old and have OA from head to toe. I live in central Florida and have been here since 1990. The change in barometric pressure down here kills me. One doctor in the early 90’s told me the pain was due to barametric changes. No other doctor has volunteered an answer. They don’t want to talk about it. I had to leve south GA at an early age the OA was so bad. Moved to CT for 20 yrs and it never bothered me. I have decided wet or dry weat her makes no difference. When a weather front is moving in I’m in pain. When it gets here I’m a lot better. I lived in the high desert in CA fotr 5 yrs with no pain. 5000 ft. elevation. As soon as possible I’m going to vacation at 6000 ft in AZ. I’ll let you know how I make out.

Leave a Reply to Kim Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *