“Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” said Mark Twain. Just ask 93% of the arthritis sufferers who believe that the weather affects their pain level. History tells us that Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Christopher Columbus also felt this way about the weather.
Patients at our clinic have been particularly sensitive to joint pain on cold, damp days, especially during the past few weeks. In my clinical practice of orthopedic and sports physical therapy, an informal survey found that 95 out of 100 patients (95%) with arthritis reported increased pain with weather changes. While most people report that the coldness and dampness seem to irritate their joints, they also report more pain with weather changes in the summer. There is a reasonable explanation…
Joints in the body have a lining called synovium that secretes a lubricating fluid called synovial fluid. In joints with arthritis, there is an overproduction of synovial fluid. In theory, when the barometric pressure changes, so to will the pressure inside your joints, especially if it is already overfull with extra fluid from arthritis. This added pressure stimulates the nerve endings in the joint to produce inflammation and pain.
Despite this overwhelming response from patients, scientific studies vary in their support of this claim. According to the Mayo Clinic, in 1961, a famous arthritis doctor (rheumatologist), built a climate chamber and discovered that when high humidity was combined with low barometric pressure, patients reported increased joint pain and stiffness. A recent study found that changes in barometric pressure and cooler temperatures are associated with joint pain. However, other studies have found increased joint pain with high barometric pressure in both warm and cold weather while another study found pain with low pressure.
It means that patients with arthritis consistently report pain with weather changes but science has not found an accurate method to consistently support these claims. Some of these inconsistencies may be attributed to the fact that there are differences in sensitivity among individuals. For example, some patients have symptoms before the weather changes, while others notice symptoms during or after the weather changes. Still yet, some report more pain in colder conditions while others notice more pain in warmer weather. It appears that changes in the weather, such as a high to a low or warm dry to cold damp and vice versa is the culprit when it comes to irritating arthritis in a joint.
If I have arthritis, should you move to Arizona? Yes and no! Yes, the warm and dry climate of Arizona will probably make you feel better overall. However, it will not cure the degenerative changes in your joints and you may still have pain when CHANGES in the weather occur. This is proven to be true by the fact that there are many very busy rheumatologists in Arizona!
In conclusion, it is safe to say that there is some evidence to support the claim that most patients with arthritis have increased symptoms of joint pain and stiffness with CHANGES in the weather:
Therefore, each patient must be individually evaluated by their physician to determine the extent of their arthritis and its relationship to the changes in the weather. While the cause of their increased symptoms with changes in the weather may not be completely understood, each patient must determine the adjustments in their lifestyle and/or medications according to the particular weather patterns that affect their problem most.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
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Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.