People with chronic joint pain frequently report that weather conditions affect their pain. Does weather truly affect joint pain? Let’s take a peek at the research to see what today’s forecast tells us. Hint: it may be cloudy, with dropping temperatures, and rain.
Joint conditions are generally associated with inflammation and pain. Arthritis sufferers commonly complain of increasing pain and stiffness with cold and damp weather conditions. Various theories are discussed in the literature as to why this may occur, although results have sometimes been contradictory.
Temperature changes may increase joint stiffness at lower temperatures and decrease stiffness at higher temperatures. This effect is seen in the elderly with arthritis and patients with advanced disease. While the evidence is weak, some studies have reported a trend toward worsening pain and stiffness with falling temperature and falling barometric pressure in arthritic patients.1 It has been suggested that up to 80-90% of patients with arthritic disease may be sensitive to weather conditions.2
A Weather and Pain Questionnaire (WPQ) was used to assess patient sensitivity to meteorologic variables defined by the National Weather Service. Seventy chronic pain patients (59% females) with an average age of 43 years completed the WPQ. The most frequently reported meteorologic variables which affect pain complaints were temperature (87%) and humidity (77%). The most frequently reported physical complaints associated with the weather were joint and muscle aches (82% and 79%, respectively). 3
A study of 236 patients of knee joint osteoarthritis. patients used a standardized pain reporting tool, called a Visual Analog Scale (VAS), and found a direct correlation between a decrease in temperature and an increase in the severity of joint pain. A common finding was that severity of joint pain increases in cloudy weather and cold weather. While it was noted that joint pain also increased with rainfall, the authors noted that pain increases did not always occur.4
Fifty-three patients with hip osteoarthritis using the VAS scale to report pain levels showed that pain levels increased with changes in atmospheric pressure from one day to the next. Precipitation and temperature, however, were not shown to influence pain severity. This data supports the belief held by many osteoarthritic patients that changing weather patterns influence their pain severity.5
Another study of individuals with osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or fibromyalgia showed that most patients were affected by changes in weather. Specifically, changes in barometric pressure and temperature in RA; temperature, rain, and barometric pressure in OA; and barometric pressure in fibromyalgia.6
A study of knee OA patients supported that most (57.5%) perceived the weather as affecting their knee joint clinical symptoms. The authors found that weather-sensitive patients were prone to show more serious clinical symptoms (such as knee pain and dysfunction) and abnormal knee joint structure (such as cartilage defects and bone marrow abnormalities). They also found that weather sensitivity may increase the risk of increased illness in patients with knee OA. They concluded that weather-sensitive patients may need early intervention to delay the progression of the disease.7
Conversely, a large study of Medicare patients reviewed 11,673,392 outpatient visits for joint or back pain-related conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, spondylosis, intervertebral disc disorders, and other non-traumatic joint disorders) on rainy versus non-rainy days. No relation was found between rainfall and outpatient visits for joint or back pain. The authors concluded that a relationship may still exist, and therefore larger, more detailed data on disease severity and pain would be useful to support the validity of this commonly held belief.8 This study was limited in that it did not look at medications, the severity of illness, or weather conditions other than rainfall.
A recent study showed the possibility of weather effects on RA patients’ pain depending on seasons, especially the effect of extreme temperatures. The presence of Sjogren’s syndrome affected pain intensity perception in our patients in the summer. Study results confirmed that consideration of seasonal variation, geographic discrepancies within studies, and other factors (e.g., Sjogren’s syndrome), should be considered in future studies.9
What does this mean for arthritis sufferers and what can you do about it?
- Certain weather conditions may impact joint pain inflammation and pain. A project, sponsored by versusarthritis.org, Cloudy With a Chance of Pain, found that higher humidity, lower pressure, and stronger winds – in that order – were significantly associated with increased pain. A humid and windy day with low pressure was the weather most associated with increased pain, whereas a dry and calm day with high pressure was the least associated with pain.10 The study noted that patients have anecdotally reported a positive benefit of spending time in warmer climates for many years. The prevailing high-pressure systems and associated dry, calm air may have a positive effect on their pain levels. This study did not account for medication use and noted that there are unique individual experiences.
- Track or log weather conditions and changes in your pain to note if and when weather conditions increase your pain levels. Using a scale of 0-10 from no pain to the most excruciating pain imaginable can be one scale to record your pain. The VAS can be found here. Notice when you travel to different geographic climates how your pain levels may be impacted. This may provide some good information if you are ever considering moving to a different climate.
- Control for environmental conditions when possible-This means if rain, temperature, or humidity are found to impact your pain intensity, you may be able to control them by staying indoors and controlling temperature and humidity within your home environment, dressing for outdoor conditions, or using heat or cold packs depending on the effect on your pain levels.
- Consider other natural therapies– Natural therapies may be used as preventatives or to manage inflammation and pain symptoms with weather changes.
- Fix underlying metabolic imbalances contributing to pain to lessen the overall pain experience-Underlying imbalances are often contributors to joint pain and can often be corrected. This may not mean that your joint disease is cured, but rather that underlying triggers or contributors to inflammation and pain are addressed.
The weather seems to affect many people with joint disease, although it may be due to individual, environmental, geographical conditions, disease, disease severity, and other factors. Studies reviewed provided varying results, likely due to differences in study design (the way the study was set up), geographic information collected, geographic region of the study population, as well as disease type, disease condition, and other factors.
Overall, the weather has been shown to impact the experience of joint pain for many individuals. This provides evidence of a need for continued study on how best to support an individual to manage their joint disease, as well as manage joint inflammation and pain with changes in weather conditions.
1. Deall C, Majeed H. Effect of Cold Weather on the Symptoms of Arthritic Disease: A Review of the Literature. Journal of General Practice. 2016;04(05). doi:10.4172/2329-9126.1000275
2. Hill DF. Climate and Arthritis; In Arthritis and Allied Conditions, in A Text Book of Rheumatology, .; 1972.
3. Nampiaparampil DE, Shmerling RH. A review of fibromyalgia. American Journal of Managed Care. 2004;10(11 I).
4. Mahajan MP, Gholap AH. A STUDY OF INTERRELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SEVERITY OF KNEE JOINT PAIN PERCEIVED WITH REFERENCE TO CHANGES IN CLIMATE. Int J Res Ayurveda Pharm. 2017;8(1). doi:10.7897/2277-4343.08138
5. Brennan SA, Harney T, Queally JM, O’Connor McGoona J, Gormley IC, Shannon FJ. Influence of weather variables on pain severity in end-stage osteoarthritis. Int Orthop. 2012;36(3). doi:10.1007/s00264-011-1304-9
6. Guedj D, Weinberger A. Effect of weather conditions on rheumatic patients. Ann Rheum Dis. 1990;49(3). doi:10.1136/ard.49.3.158
7. Xue Y, Ding D, Zheng Y, Cao Y. The association between the weather sensitivity with knee pain, function, cartilage defect and marrow abnormality in knee osteoarthritis: a cross-sectional study. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2020;28. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2020.02.627
8. Jena AB, Olenski AR, Molitor D, Miller N. Association between rainfall and diagnoses of joint or back pain: Retrospective claims analysis. BMJ (Online). 2017;359. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5326
9. Azzouzi H, Ichchou L. Seasonal and Weather Effects on Rheumatoid Arthritis: Myth or Reality? Pain Res Manag. 2020;2020. doi:10.1155/2020/5763080
10. Reade S, Spencer K, Sergeant JC, et al. Cloudy with a chance of pain: Engagement and subsequent attrition of daily data entry in a smartphone pilot study tracking weather, disease severity, and physical activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2017;5(3). doi:10.2196/mhealth.6496
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.