Arthritis and Humid Weather: Why Do Your Joints Ache?

August 16, 2019

A women walking outside in a rainy day with an umbrella
Christine Yu

You swear you can feel a change in the weather and your joints can predict an oncoming storm better than your local meteorologist. While dry weather can be great for joints, humidity as well as damp, wet weather can spell disaster for those suffering from arthritis. Ouch!

And you're not alone. Many people with arthritis complain of a link between arthritis and humid weather. Here's what the research says about why some people are weather-sensitive and how weather conditions can affect your joints.

Why Do Your Joints Ache?

A study published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that 67% of people with osteoarthritis said they were weather-sensitive and experienced more joint pain compared to those who were not sensitive to changes in the weather.

Despite this common experience, doctors and researchers don't know exactly what causes the relationship between arthritis and hot weather or humidity. Plus, fluctuations in the weather don't affect everyone in the same way. For some, humid weather causes their knees to ache. For others, it's the damp cold that makes their fingers feel stiff and painful.

However, scientists have some theories as to why it feels like arthritis and joint pain is connected to weather. According to Harvard Health, the most likely culprits are humidity, temperature and barometric pressure (or atmospheric pressure), which rises and falls with changing weather patterns.

For example, a study in The American Journal of Medicine found that changes in barometric pressure and temperature were associated with knee pain in people with arthritis. Another study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that cold but humid days increased joint pain among people with osteoarthritis, pointing to a relationship between arthritis and humid weather.

On the other hand, for some, arthritis and hot weather are a better match, especially if the climate is dry. Their joints don't hurt as much in these conditions.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, when barometric pressure rises or falls, it can make your tendons, muscles and scar tissue expand and contract, resulting in uncomfortable pressure in your joints. The same thing can happen in humid weather, too. When the temperature dips, fluids surrounding your joint can become more viscous or thick, which may explain why your joints may feel stiff and more sensitive to discomfort.

Arthritis and Humid Weather: Tips for Easing the Pain

While you can't control the weather, you can take steps to ease your pain.

If you find that you're sensitive to weather, there are a few things that can help to ease the pain. In an article for Everyday Health, Dr. Mark A. McQuillan, MD, recommends regular exercise to ease some of the symptoms and improve range of motion. Try low-impact activities like cycling or swimming. Water-based activities are particularly beneficial because the water makes movement easier on your joints. Or stick with gentle stretching or yoga. A healthy diet and maintaining good hydration helps, too.

So no, you're not imagining it! Depending on the season and the weather, your arthritis may feel like it's acting up or you may find that you're relatively pain-free.

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