Can the Weather Really Aggravate Arthritis?


Bucciarelli, Alia

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Grandpa always said that an ache in his knee meant rain was on the way. But can you really tell the forecast based on arthritis symptoms? Up to two-thirds of people with arthritis say that their symptoms are affected by weather, worsening when it turns cold or damp.  Yet proving a link between joint pain and weather factors has been notoriously tough to do.

Though many studies have been done, their results conflict. Because of this, many health care providers believe that claims about the effect of humidity, temperature, and barometric pressure on arthritis symptoms are misguided. But recent research may be tilting the balance in favor of the long-held belief.

More than Myth?

A study from 2003 looked at 154 active adults, ages 49 years and older, living in Florida. All had osteoarthritis of the neck, hand, shoulder, knee, or foot. Researchers found that women with osteoarthritis of the hand were more sensitive to the effects of weather than men. For these women, rising barometric pressure was linked with higher pain levels.

In a 2007 study, researchers assessed data from 200 people nationwide with knee osteoarthritis. Their average age was 60 years.  The study showed that changes in barometric pressure and temperature affected the severity of knee pain—but just a little bit. Every 10-degree decrease in temperature increased knee pain scores by 0.1 on a pain scale of 0 to 20.

Before You Head West

Despite these study findings, it’s too soon to pack up and head for a different climate. Only a randomized controlled trial—the gold standard for clinical research—that compares pain levels in people randomly assigned to different weather conditions can tell us for sure whether weather actually affects arthritis pain. Such a trial being undertaken is unlikely.

In addition, experts caution that even if warm, dry weather is better for your arthritis symptoms, it won’t alleviate the disease itself. So instead of consulting the meteorologist, talk with your doctor about how to manage joint pain.

Medical Reviewers: Brian McDonough, MD Last Review Date: Mar 14, 2014

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