Arthritis and Weather - What's the Connection?

Do Weather Changes Truly Affect Arthritis?

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Many people with arthritis claim that weather affects how they feel. Some people believe that symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain and joint stiffness, are influenced by changes in the weather. Is there actually a connection between arthritis and weather? If yes, why is the effect of weather changes on arthritis true for some people, but not for others? And, finally, if this connection exists, what is the best climate for someone with arthritis?

Should they start packing and move as soon as possible?

The Rejuvenator Versus Placebo (This Is Interesting!)

According to rheumatologist, Scott J. Zashin, MD, "It is not uncommon for patients with arthritis to notice an increase in symptoms with certain weather conditions. For example, some of my patients can predict when it will soon rain based on their symptoms. Others feel terrific in places that have increased barometric pressure, but have more pain in locations where the pressure is lower."

Dr. Zashin continued, "In fact, a patient of mine felt so well when he vacationed in Destin, Florida that he developed a small chamber that would raise the barometric pressure to a level that replicated Destin. He would sit in the chamber for 30 minutes twice a day and was able to discontinue his medications. Due to his relief, I conducted a very small study that exposed patients to 30 minutes in a placebo chamber and 12 hours later in the "Rejuvenator" (the chamber that was developed to have an increase in barometric pressure), as well as another study that included one 30 minute placebo session and two 30 minute "Rejuvenator" treatments over 3 days.

The majority of the patients had clinical improvement using the chamber with the increased barometric pressure. Side effects included self-limited symptoms of ear pressure, sinus pressure and "windburn". Based on the results of the preliminary study, more testing was recommended to further study the potential benefits and risks of this therapy."

Further Studies of Arthritis and Weather

Further support for an effect on atmospheric pressure in arthritis was published in the Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society in 2004. In this prospective, double blind study, 92 patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis were compared to a control group of 42 subjects. The authors concluded that the osteoarthritis patients experienced increased joint pain with a low atmospheric pressure while low temperature increased the risk of joint pain in the rheumatoid arthritis group.

Another study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2004 demonstrated that high humidity was unfavorable for arthritis patients. Based on these two studies alone, it would seem that a location that tends to have a higher barometric pressure and lower humidity would represent a favorable environment for people with arthritis.  

Another study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2015 examined whether daily weather conditions, 3-day average weather conditions, and changes in weather conditions influence joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis in six European countries. Study results revealed that associations between pain and daily average weather conditions suggested a causal relationship between joint pain and weather variables, however, the associations between day-to-day weather changes and pain did not confirm causation.

In yet another study, there were 151 people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia, as well as 32 people without arthritis who participated. All of the participants lived in warm Argentina and kept journals for one year. Patients in all three arthritis groups had more pain on days when the temperature was low. The people without arthritis were unaffected. People with rheumatoid arthritis were also affected by high humidity and high pressure. Those with osteoarthritis were affected by high humidity. People with fibromyalgia were most affected by high pressure. But, the associations were not so significant that the patient's pain level could predict the weather.

And finally, we can point to one more study that assessed 154 Floridians who had osteoarthritis affecting several joints. For two years, the study participants reported on their arthritis pain and researchers matched the information against weather statistics. There was no strong association found between any weather condition and any osteoarthritis site with one exception—increased barometric pressure seemed to have a slight effect on hand pain in women.

Best Place to Live?

Dr. Zashin has an answer ready for patients who ask him where the best place to live is for people with arthritis, "For patients who ask me where the best place for them to live is in terms of climate, I suggest that they live where they will be happiest. Certainly, if a decision is made to move somewhere based on arthritis, make sure you try it out by spending plenty of time there during different seasons before making any move."

A Word From Verywell

In the 1990s, a New York Times article discussed Dr. Amos Tversky's theory on weather and arthritis. Dr. Tversky, then a Stanford University psychologist, had a unique perspective—arthritis pain may have no connection to barometric pressure, dampness, humidity, or any other component of weather. Tversky explained, "The patient's enduring belief that their arthritis pain is related to the weather is caused by an innate human tendency to find patterns whether they are there or not."

So, even though we have demonstrated that arthritis and weather has been studied for years, by including some older studies, it's difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Perhaps the matter is too subjective. Here's what we can clear up and declare as true:

  • Weather does not affect the course of arthritis. However, it may have some impact on arthritis symptoms in some people.
  • Warm, dry climates may allow some people with arthritis to feel better, but there is no climate that is an arthritis-free zone.
  • Some people with arthritis may be more physically sensitive to temperature change, barometric pressure, and humidity than others.

Sources:

Scott J. Zashin, MD, is a clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Division of Rheumatology, in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Zashin is also an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and the American College of Rheumatology and a member of the American Medical Association.

Timmermans EJ et al. The Influence of Weather Conditions on Joint Pain in Older People with Osteoarthritis: Results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis. Journal of Rheumatology. 2015 Oct;42(10):1885-92.

Does Weather Affect Arthritis Pain? MedicalNewsToday. January 14, 2008.

Weather Conditions Can Influence Rheumatic Diseases. Proceedings of the Western Pharmacology Society 47:134-6 · February 2004

Wiebe R. Patberg and Johannes J. Rasker. Weather Effects in Rheumatoid Arthritis: From Controversy to Consensus. A Review. Journal  of Rheumatology. 2004.

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