If you have arthritis in one or more joints, then you understand how the pain and stiffness can affect your functional mobility. Arthritis pain may seem worse with activity, but the stiffness seems to get better with motion.
But what about the weather? It is often said that changes in weather affect how arthritis sufferers feel, and that many people with arthritis can feel when a storm is coming. Is there any truth to this?
Before examining the facts about the (alleged) link between weather changes and arthritis pain, make sure you review some simple truths about arthritis:
Weather won't affect the overall progression of your condition. It may affect how your arthritis symptoms feel.
Some people with arthritis may be more sensitive to changes in weather and barometric pressure; this does not mean any causal relationship exists.
People in dry, warm climates typically report decreased arthritis symptoms, but there is no single best "anti-arthritis" climate.
What Does Research Show About Weather and Arthritis?
One study about the link between arthritis and weather recruited 151 people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. Thirty-two people with no arthritis also participated in the study as a control group. The participants all lived in Argentina and kept a journal for one year about their arthritis pain and symptoms. Data about the weather patterns was compared to what the participants wrote in their journals.
When the weather data was compared to what the participants reported about their symptoms, interesting patterns were seen. People in all three experimental groups reported more pain when the temperature was cooler. Those with no arthritis were not affected by the weather. Osteoarthritis sufferers were affected by high humidity, and rheumatoid arthritis suffers were affected by both high pressure and high humidity.
This study does not really provide information about cause and effect for the weather. Why? Perhaps those people with arthritis have been socially trained to feel increased pain when it was cold. Perhaps they have heard over the years that arthritis sufferers feel pain when storms are coming, and this causes them experience more pain when the meteorologists forecasts rain.
So What Could Be Causing Increased Pain When Weather Changes?
There are a few theories as to why arthritis sufferers feel increased pain when the weather changes.
Over the course of their lifespan, people interact with arthritis sufferers. If you lived with or visited elderly relatives, then perhaps you have heard them complain about increased pain and stiffness when a storm is coming. Exposure to these complaints over the years - prior to getting your own diagnosis of arthritis - may bias you to feeling these same symptoms when the clouds roll in and the weather gets cold and damp.
People like to feel like they have control over situations. Humans like to find patterns of behavior that helps to explain what they are experiencing. When arthritis pain and stiffness strikes, seemingly for no apparent reason, it is easy to look at the weather report and find blame in changes in barometric pressure. The pattern of changing weather causing increased arthritis pain creates a nice, cozy explanation for something that is not under your control.
There may be a true cause-effect relationship between barometric pressure changes, temperature changes, and weather on arthritis pain. It may simply be difficult to prove because pain and stiffness are such subjective things, and accurately measuring subjective symptoms if difficult to do.
You cannot control the weather or the effect the weather may (or may not) have on your arthritis symptoms. There are things you can do to help your arthritis. These include:
Using ice. When acute flare-ups of arthritis pain and swelling strike, application of ice to the affected area is recommended. This can help decrease swelling and pain and improve your ability to move. The trick to using ice is making sure it provides full coverage and using compression with your ice. The combination of compression and ice help to alleviate acute arthritis pain and swelling is best.
Using heat. When acute pain is under control, using heat to your affected joints can help increase circulation. This can help loosen up joints and improve range of motion to those joints affected by arthritis.
Exercise. One of the best ways to manage arthritis pain is to exercise. Exercise helps to improve mobility by signaling a secretion of lubricant into your joints. This lubricant helps the arthritic joint surfaces to glide and slide with less rubbing and friction, thus decreasing pain.
The debate rages on: is your arthritis pain affected by changes in the weather? The short answer: maybe. And since we do not know for sure, it is best to take a proactive approach to your arthritis management with exercise, heat, and ice.