Have you or someone you know, ever had a painful predication about the weather? You may recall having heard someone complain about his or her aching joints and infer that a storm must be on the way. Some attribute these psychic abilities to paranoia or old myths, however scientists have actually shown that this phenomenon could have some merit.
The truth is, many people who have been diagnosed with arthritis or similar conditions have observed an increase in joint pain when specific changes occur in the weather. These climate changes typically consist of: the rise and fall of humidity levels, pattern changes in precipitation, and/or extreme temperatures.
Scientists have conducted studies to better understand the causes and effects of these occurrences:
“Guedj and Weinberger attempted to correlate pain and activity levels with changes in weather by diagnosis. They instructed 16 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, 24 with osteoarthritis, 11 with inflammatory arthritis, and 11 with fibromyalgia joint pain to monitor their pain and activity every day for four weeks. They found that patients whose pain was attributable to rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia were all adversely affected by changes in barometric pressure.” (1)
Barometric pressure is defined as the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. WebMD explains, “if you imagine the tissues surrounding the joints to be like a balloon, high barometric pressure that pushes against the body from the outside will keep tissues from expanding” (2) Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. “This lower air pressure pushes less against the body, allowing tissues to expand — and those expanded tissues can put pressure on the joint” (2).
Although research can show some correlation between the weather and painful joints, many experiments have yielded mixed results, inhibiting us to pinpoint any factual conclusions. Even so, there are ways to find relief. Remember to keep warm by dressing in layers, heated pads on painful joints, or even relaxing under an electric blanket. If you need to go out in the cold, you should always try to exercise your joints first to avoid stiffness (2).
Regardless of the scientific data, you should be aware of your body and try to determine the types of triggers that can increase any pain you might be feeling. If excessive joint pain does occur, please do not hesitate to see your doctor. Arthritis is a worldwide occurrence and not something to ignore. In the meantime, if you can predict a rain storm or two from it, at least you’ll have your umbrella handy!
(1) Guedj D, Weinberger, A. Effect of weather conditions on rheumatic patients. Ann Rhem Dis 1990; 49:158–159.