With the winter weather biting hard in many parts of the country, you may be one of the many arthritis sufferers who feel that their arthritis pain is influenced by the weather -- specifically, that they experience more arthritis pain on cold, rainy days and less arthritis pain on warm, dry days.
Johns Hopkins Health Alerts reports on two recent research studies on whether climate really does affect arthritis pain, which have produced conflicting results. The Johns Hopkins Health Alerts editors have also just released a free Special Report on Arthritis Pain Relief to help arthritis sufferers with the latest news on the most effective arthritis pain relief strategies.
What the Research on Arthritis Pain Shows
One study looked for a relationship between weather and arthritis pain in 151 people with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia (a rheumatic disorder that causes joint pain) as well as 32 people without arthritis. All participants lived in Cordoba City, Argentina, which has a warm climate. Participants kept a journal for one year recording the presence and features of any pain, and these daily reports were matched with weather conditions such as temperature, barometric pressure, and relative humidity.
Patients in all three groups experienced more pain on days when the temperature was low, while people in the control group were unaffected by any of the weather conditions. In addition, patients with rheumatoid arthritis were affected by high humidity and high pressure; osteoarthritis patients by high humidity; and those with fibromyalgia by high pressure. However, the associations were not strong enough to allow pain to predict weather, or vice versa.
Another study looked at 154 people (average age 72) who lived in Florida and had osteoarthritis of the neck, hand, shoulder, knee, or foot. Participants reported their arthritis pain scores for up to two years, then researchers matched the scores with the daily temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation status. No significant associations were found between any of the weather conditions and osteoarthritis pain at any site, except for a slight association between rising barometric pressure and hand pain in women.
A Mild Case for Warmer Weather
Although some evidence exists that people living in warmer, drier climates experience fewer episodes of arthritis pain, climate does not affect the course of the disease. At most, it may affect symptoms of arthritis pain.
One theory holds that a drop in air pressure (which often accompanies cold, rainy weather) allows tissues in the body to expand to fill the space, meaning that already inflamed tissue can swell even more and cause increased arthritis pain. Other possibilities: Pain thresholds drop in colder weather; cold, rainy days affect mood; and during colder weather people are less likely to be outside and get the exercise that normally helps keep arthritis pain in check.
So does this possible link between cold, rainy weather and arthritis pain mean that people with arthritis should you should move to a dry, warm climate like Arizona? Not necessarily, especially if it means leaving your family, friends, doctors, and support system behind. If you are thinking of moving, first spend a considerable amount of time in your new location to see if the weather affects your arthritis pain symptoms.
But bear in mind that no environment is arthritis-proof: Even though the people in these research studies live in warm climates, they still struggle with arthritis pain. Similarly, it's possible to get relief from arthritis pain in any climate. For example, even if cold weather means you can't spend time outdoors, you can still get valuable exercise in a gym or heated pool.