If your knee starts to flare up or your hip aches as the weather changes, you’re not crazy. Weather can absolutely affect joint pain in some people. Sensitive people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis report feeling more aches and stiffness when cold temperatures, humidity, precipitation, and falling barometric pressure set in. People who tend to experience more overall pain with their arthritis are those who are most affected by the weather.
Not everyone with joint pain experiences changes in their discomfort due to the weather, but if you can predict rain or a cold front with a rise in pain levels, you're not imagining things. In a study published in 2014, 67% of respondents reported aggravated joint pain in response to weather changes.
As temperatures decrease, joint pain tends to increase. Research has shown that every 10-degree drop in temperature incrementally increases arthritis pain. Add precipitation, such as rain or sleet, and joint pain may worsen more.
Cold, wet days seem to be the worst for those with joint pain. Sunny, dry days help those with arthritis feel better, and they report less joint pain. Sunny weather also improves your overall mood, which may help distract from joint pain.
Shifts in the barometric pressure also affect many people’s joint pain. Barometric pressure measures the weight of the air. Once the barometer settles, your pain lessens, but as it goes down with the onset of a cool front, you may experience accelerated discomfort. Similarly, the onset of a high-pressure system and a rise in barometric pressure may actually help ease joint pain.
Exactly why certain people’s joints are more sensitive to changes in the weather isn’t clear.
Atmospheric conditions may influence swelling in your joint capsules. As the barometric pressure shifts, your connective tissue, muscles, bones, and scar tissue subtly expand and contract, which may affect arthritis pain. As a front comes in, the barometric pressure drops — leading to even microscopic expansion in tissue that adds pressure to your joints and leads to greater pain.
Colder weather can change the viscosity of joint fluids, so less lubrication is available to your sensitive joints. The decreased activity that’s associated with cold, wet days may also lead to stiffness and increased pain.
You can’t change the weather, and even if you move to a warmer, less variable climate, your body will likely adapt, so changes in the weather there may still impact your pain.
If you find your joints are sensitive to cooler, wet weather, do your best to stay warm by dressing in layers, warming up the car before you get in, and keeping your thermostat set to toasty. Apply a heating pad to inflamed joints to ease some pain.
Even if the weather is frightful, do your best to keep moving. Inactivity only promotes more stiffness and inflammation. Stay hydrated too, as this can keep joint fluids looser and more effective in smoothing joint movement.
When you experience joint pain, turn to the expert providers at South Texas Spinal Clinic for relief. You can get other tips about how to deal with your joint pain when the weather has you feeling especially compromised.