Managing Arthritis

Does the weather affect arthritis?

A woman in pain

Many people living with arthritis will tell you that they can predict the weather based on their level of joint pain. There may be something to this: studies suggest that changes in weather factors may increase pain. And as we know, weather changes are becoming the norm, so it’s something that people with arthritis need to be conscious of when planning their day. On days with sharp drops in temperature or barometric pressure, you may find your pain levels are higher. Or for some people, rising barometric pressure and humidity can increase pain. We don’t know why, exactly – it’s been suggested that atmospheric changes affect circulation and fluid pressure in our joints, increasing inflammation.

Some researchers have proposed that as cartilage wears away due to arthritis, the nerves in our bones might become sensitive to pressure changes. It has also been suggested that air pressure changes can cause our muscles and tendons to contract and expand, contributing to joint pain. In a 2019 study with over 13,000 participants conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester, it was found that, “higher relative humidity and wind speed, and lower atmospheric pressure, were associated with increased pain severity in people with long-term pain conditions.”  Even when the impact of weather on mood and physical activity were taken to account, there was still seen to be a small but statistically significant effect of weather on pain. 

However, another study found that people living in different climates did not experience significant differences in arthritis pain, while other research compared local weather reports with joint pain levels and did not find a link between the two. While the research remains unclear, you know your pain better than anyone else and can best determine how weather affects you. Some types of arthritis make people more susceptible to the weather than others. Raynaud’s phenomenon, for example, can cause circulation issues in hands and feet. The fact is that every person’s condition is unique to them, so if you suspect that weather is playing a role in your pain levels, try keeping a diary for a few weeks to see if you can identify a pattern.

The Arthritis Society offers a simple Daily Symptom Tracker that you can use to monitor your symptoms and the things in your environment that might affect you – from the weather to your meals to stress levels to sleep patterns. It might also be helpful to stay tuned to your local weather report to see what Mother Nature has in store for you in the coming days. Over time you may find you can better predict when you are likely to have good or bad days and can plan your schedule and activities accordingly.

What you can do

If you notice that your joint pain gets worse in certain weather, here are some suggestions to help you manage your symptoms.

If your symptoms are worse in colder weather:

  • Take a warm bath or shower to help relieve the pain

  • Use a hot water bottle, warm pack or heating pad to soothe sore joints.  It’s important to use a clean dish towel or other barrier between the heat and your skin to prevent burning or harming your skin.

  • Dress in multiple layers and cover exposed skin when outdoors

  • For sore hands, you can soak them in warm water or try an “oil and glove treatment”:  apply mineral oil to your hands, put on a pair of rubber gloves, then soak them in warm water for 10 minutes

  • Visit our resource on heat therapy for more information.

If your symptoms are worse in warm weather:

  • A cool shower or cold pack can help with pain and inflammation on hot days.  If using a cold pack, place a dish towel or other barrier between the pack and your skin to avoid damaging your skin.

  • It’s important to stay hydrated.  Drink plenty of water and try to avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks that can contribute to dehydration.

  • Try to avoid spending time in the sun during the hottest hours of the day and cover up in a hat and light coloured clothing that covers your skin.

  • You can try a cooling ointment or spray that produces an icy feeling where it’s applied.

  • Visit our resource on cold therapy for more information.

In addition, always take your pain medication as prescribed by your doctor and try to stay active, whatever the weather.  For exercises you can do indoors, visit the Exercise section of our online lifestyle hub flourish.