You may have family members or friends with arthritis who claim they can predict when it's going to rain by how their joints feel. Believe them when they say it because those who have experienced weather's effect on arthritis cannot be dissuaded.
What We Know For Sure
Researchers have studied the effect of weather on arthritis. It's difficult to draw definitive conclusions though. 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. It may affect arthritis symptoms however.
- Warm, dry climates may allow some arthritis patients to feel better but there is no climate that is arthritis-free.
- Some arthritis patients may be more physically sensitive to temperature changes, barometric pressure, and humidity than others.
One study looked at the effect of weather on arthritis pain. 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. Rheumatoid arthritis patients were also affected by high humidity and high pressure. Osteoarthritis patients were affected by high humidity. Fibromyalgia patients were most affected by high pressure. The associations were not so significant that the patient's pain level could predict the weather however.
Another study 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.
So Maybe There's Nothing to It
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."
And so, after presenting several theories about weather and arthritis, we've come back to square one. The debate about weather's effects on joint pain date back to Hippocrates in 400 B.C. This many years later, there is still confusion surrounding the matter. Our own non-scientific poll shows that 72 percent believe weather affects their arthritis. So I'll pass the question on to you now. Do you feel the storm approaching?
Does Weather Affect Arthritis Pain? Johns Hopkins Health Alerts. Accessed 1/09/2008.
Does The Weather Affect Arthritis? Terrence Starz, MD. University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Accessed 01/09/2008.
Could It Be? Weather Has Nothing To Do With Your Arthritis Pain? New York Times. Gina Kolata. April 3, 1996.