Why your joints ache with weather changes

Barometric Pressure and Joint Pain

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), an estimated 52.5 million people in the United States have received a diagnosis for some form of arthritis.1

Of these, 27 million were diagnosed with osteoarthritis, which is the most prevalent form of arthritis. The condition is also more prevalent among women than men. Obesity and activity levels are thought to be contributing factors to greater disfuction.1

Weather may be another contributing factor to worsening of osteoarthritis symptoms. This may not be uncommon story for patients’ family members and friends to hear, “My hip is really aching today. It’s probably going to rain, just you wait!” Interestingly, there may actually be some truth to this. There has been some interesting research regarding the possible association between both general joint and osteoarthritis pain symptoms and weather.2-4

Barometric pressure and joint pain

A drop in barometric pressure (or air pressure) is often the first indicator of bad weather to come.2 This means that there is less pressure against the body, so the tissue surrounding the joints can expand. In the case of osteoarthritis, this can lead to increased pain, soreness, and stiffness.2 It may also prove a good explanation as to why Uncle Charlie’s knees act up, even if there is not a cloud in the sky – the barometric pressure will drop before the clouds roll in.

What does the research Say?

A 1995 study in the journal Pain looked at the perceived influence of weather on joint pain in four different cities (San Diego, Nashville, Worcester, Mass., and Boston).3 Local weather maps were compared to pain measurement reports from 558 patients in these cities. Although there was no definitive data supporting a link between regionally colder climates and joint pain, the researchers did find that patients were “fine-tuned” to detect changes in weather within their localized area.2,3 In other words, while patients in Boston were not necessarily more sensitive to weather changes than those in San Diego, patients in each city did notice an increase in joint pain related to their local weather changes. The researchers surmised that this might be due to patients becoming acclimatized to small changes in weather patterns in their cities.2,3

A more recent article, also published in Pain, took the research a step further by specifically looking at osteoarthritis of the hip in relation to weather conditions.4 A total of 188 patients filled out questionnaires assessing function and pain every three months for the two year study. These questionnaires were then matched to local weather patterns.4

The researchers found that pain scores worsened by one point for every 10 percent increase in humidity.4 In other words, a 50 percent rise in humidity corresponded to an increase in pain scores by five points. Furthermore, function scores worsened for every 3/10 decrease in barometric pressure.4

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