Arthritis Pain and Weather: Is the Connection Myth or Reality?

Arthritis Pain and Weather: Is the Connection Myth or Reality?

By Arthritis Connect StaffCA Published at October 5, 2011 Views 32,786 Comments 26 Likes 23

As a person with arthritis you may feel as though you have the power to tell the meteorological future. As the weather changes, so do your symptoms – your own crystal ball, of sorts, to determine arthritic pain.

If so, you’re hardly alone in your belief. Many people feel their arthritis pain is linked to the weather. More specifically, most say they experience more arthritis pain on cold, rainy days and less arthritis pain on warm, dry days. The idea that weather affects certain painful health conditions dates back to at least Hippocrates, and there is a seemingly endless supply of anecdotal evidence.

But here’s the rub: Medical research has failed to establish an objective relationship, coming up with equivocal support at best for a connection between arthritis severity and weather patterns.

So, if there isn’t a connection or it’s relatively weak, why is there such widespread belief?

One answer is that despite the failures of researchers to find a strong correlation between weather and arthritis, one still exists. It could be possible the science hasn’t caught up with the anecdotal evidence. Maybe the right combination of conditions or symptoms hasn't been studied.

The most common theory along these lines – with some scientific evidence to support it – is that changes in humidity, temperature and barometric air pressure, which often accompany cold, precipitous weather, makes joints stiffer and causes already inflamed tissue to swell even more and increase arthritis pain. To be clear, it’s important to note that doctors and researchers don’t believe weather actually makes arthritis itself worse. Instead, the idea is that weather can affect symptoms.

A second popular answer is that beliefs about the relationship between weather and arthritis may tell us more about the workings of our mind then our bodies. Beliefs that pain is affected by weather may be psychological.

Researchers who suggest this aren’t saying that the pain isn’t real or that the weather isn’t having an effect. Rather, they argue the connections may be indirect. For example, rainy or cold days may negatively affect people’s mood, and that bad mood may make pain more noticeable or difficult to bear. This may cause some patients to pay more attention to their pain on days with weather that they believe affects them. Or maybe during colder weather people are less likely to be outside and get the exercise that normally helps keep arthritis pain in check.

Perhaps more convincingly, studies from psychology suggest people often see patterns even where none exist. A day of bad weather may be followed with pain by random chance. But we are prone to look for reasons and, once we have one, pay more attention to supporting evidence (days where pain and bad weather coincide), neglect contrary evidence (all the days where there’s pain without bad weather, and vice versa) and misinterpret ambiguous evidence (ignoring other possible contributing factors, like lifestyle changes on rainy days) thereby entrenching the belief.

For now, it seems the answer to the question remains unclear. So, let’s pass it on to you now. Do you feel changes with the weather? What do you think of the other possible answers?

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Comments (20 comments)

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redorangedog October 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm   

When the barometer drops there is more of a chance of rain. The fluid in your joints swell, causing inflammation, swelling and pain with heat. This is science not a myth.

pinklady58 October 31, 2015 at 12:34 am   

I feel more pain when the temperature drops. My mood changes when the daylight gets shorter and it is darker more than light. So yes, I do think that joint pain is a real factor when the cold air starts and it affects my asthma too.

LornaDM May 25, 2015 at 11:31 pm   

What pain medicines work good for arthritis and fibro… whatever it is???

LornaDM May 25, 2015 at 11:29 pm   
Edited May 25, 2015 at 11:30 pm by LornaDM

shirleyh1, I have experienced that pain when I drive along with numbness and tingling in the hands. I never thought of it in relation to my arthritis.

LornaDM May 25, 2015 at 11:25 pm   

I don't really care what the doctors say, I know I experience more arthritis pain on cold, rainy days and less arthritis pain on warm, dry days! Where a small bone was broken in my foot, I now have severe pain whenever rain is coming. And my low back aches continually in wet weather.

vaNesa0617 May 6, 2015 at 10:19 am   

For me, only the cold, rainy weather affects my hip arthritis. When the temperature decreases, the stiffness & pain in my leg/hip increases. So I say weather does make a difference.

SusieV March 27, 2015 at 1:46 am   
Edited March 27, 2015 at 1:46 am by SusieV

I live in Illinois and this winter sucks to put it lightly. It has been so cold and we have weather changes all the time. My husband is going to retire and hopefully we will move to Arizona. They have weather changes, but it's not this bad!

Hildy2020 February 15, 2015 at 3:18 pm   

We have some cold days this Winter in the Ozarks, with that said we are suppose to have 1 to 3 inches tonight, with cold weather for the next few days. So, I will test out the theory

WASHED OUT November 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm   

This very night, again proves to me that weather causes pain and is not a myth. I live in northwestern Kentucky and a Winter Storm Warning has been issued predicting 3-5 inches of snow by morning. As it has been approaching my pain intensifies. Whom ever writes this story should have to experience what I currently feel. Now without being able to take anti-inflammatories because of other medical problems the pain will keep me up most of the night, until the barometric pressures within my bone and joints begin to equalize. They should ask my wife about when I become irritable and what is going on with the weather. She wouldn't hesitate to tell you about years worth of real data on the subject. Who actually writes this stuff?

WASHED OUT November 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm   

Arthritis pain with weather IS NOT A MYTH. I really don't need a specialist in order to answer that question. I have been experiencing that very effect for years, whether night or day when storm fronts approach my pain level esuculates. I have awaken from a sound sleep hurting and turn on the weather channel to see the approaching storm. I am not a doctor or scientist but with my arthritis, I have found the connection every time. After the storm front has moved in for a few hours then the pain level starts dropping off again. I have heard that it has something to do with the barometric pressures changing rapidly and your bones or joints hurt until the equalize to the current pressure. Whatever, the medical or scientific reasons, I do know that the question in this storyline is not a myth, but a physical reaction. Something I used to wonder and question before I to become a victim of this arthritis.

shirleyh1 August 22, 2014 at 4:18 am   

I am in almost constant pain in my ankles and shoulders, driving my car seems to aggrevate that. Does anyone else have this problem?

ZeliMay July 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm   

I am indoors all day and I don't watch the weather station or news. My window blinds are usually closed. I have fibromyalgia and arthritis. I have had days where it was completely difficult for me to get up from bed or move around without great pain, headaches, etc. Then I find out that the tide is high or we have a rain storm heading our way, or thunder storm, etc. I have never found this happen when the day is nice out. I never knew about this being controversial issue until one day my mother told me that I always had this problem when the weather is bad. I just made 50 years of age in June and it is only now that I am finding that out.

theangelladys October 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm   

I not trust any weather from news .. my body can tell me when rain or snow or bad wind ..I got bad headaches mean coming rain .. my artritis is bad pain when snow or wind or very cold and rain … doctor not know nothing .. I have fight to pain to stop and rest a lot ..

mip's October 3, 2013 at 6:43 pm   

It's really not the weather. It's the barometer the highs & low pressure that move over you, once the weather is there it's o.k.
I live in Arizona and can feel the Low pressure setting off the coast of California it's the moving of the pressures. It makes my joint swell and contract. If they don't move I'm all right with that.

melben68 June 23, 2013 at 9:44 am   

I don't watch the news or the weather, but I can tell when I wake up what its doing outside. I also can tell by how my body feels that a storm is coming even if its sunny out. I'll ask my girlfriend, who is a news nut, if a storm is expected and she usually tells me yes or that one is close by. so yes!, I do believe the body can tell bad weather and its usually a pretty good indicator.

Trouble Breathing 49
Trouble Breathing 49 June 13, 2013 at 9:30 pm   
Edited June 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm by Trouble Breathing 49

I agree with most all of these comments. Many of us Vietnam Vets who had severe injuries in Vietnam experience still today symptom changes & flare ups after 44 years. Of course since then more recent conflicts & Korean War vets before us do too.

ALJane August 20, 2012 at 10:01 pm   

Sunday, 8/19, it was overcast and looked like rain all day. My right hip leg and ankle hurt constantly all day. Today, 8/20, I awakened before I knew what the weather looked like with 85% improvement in my pain and the weather has been sunny all day without rain. I don't know if there really is a correlation in my pain and the weather, but, it really seems so. I have arthritis, fibromyalgia and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (CRPS).

SassyKatt July 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm   

I can feel a weather change or when it is going to rain before it's forcasted because of the pain & it is hard to walk. This has been going on in my knees since I was 25 yrs old. I am now 49. Now I have arthritis elsewhere & hurt everywhere. I can feel a weather change or rain up to 4-5 days before a change & I'm always right. I hurt so bad that I want to scream!!! All I can say is the Drs need to experience this themselves. My co-workers started asking me what the weather was going to do…the forecast was always wrong!!! June 13, 2012 at 10:20 am   

i can tell the weathers about to change rain, etc cause i hurt so bad i can't hardly walk and there's times the pain's so bad i cry.

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