does weather affect arthritis
Does weather affect arthritis? Maybe (Big Stock Photo)

It's an unsettled question: does weather affect arthritis? Back in the days when I used to read the weather forecasts on the radio, my knees were my most reliable forecasting tool.

If my knees hurt, it was going to rain or snow, depending on the temperature. Never mind that the forecast, prepared by a professional meteorologist, was calling for sunshine and clear skies.

While my weatherman days were short-lived (I suspect the American Meteorology Association had my picture on a wanted poster for weather fraud), I stand by “my knees weather forecasting strategy.”

Was I right?

According to Dr. Robert H. Shmerling of Harvard Health Publications, the answer to the question "does weather affect arthritis" is "no."

“Past studies examining the effect of rain, humidity, and other weather-related factors on symptoms of arthritis have been inconclusive, and in some cases, contradictory,” wrote Shmerling. “Some suggest that the key variable is rising barometric pressure. Other studies found just the opposite — that falling pressure could provoke joint pain or stiffness. There have even been attempts to artificially vary environmental conditions to mimic weather changes, such as placing arthritis sufferers in barometric chambers and varying the pressure up and down.”

“Despite this, we still don’t know whether it is one particular feature of the weather or a combination of features that matters. There are many potential factors — humidity, temperature, precipitation, and barometric pressure among them. Even if we could precisely identify what about weather affects arthritis pain and stiffness, we’re still not sure why — biologically speaking — weather should have any impact on joint symptoms.”

I’m not alone in my ability to forecast. Shmerling says he hears this a lot from his patients.

“Having reviewed the studies, I find myself not knowing how to answer my patients who ask me why their symptoms reliably worsen when the weather is damp or rain is coming, or when some other weather event happens,” said Shmerling. “I usually tell them that, first, I believe there is a connection between weather and joint symptoms, and second, researchers have been unable to figure out just what matters most about the weather and arthritis symptoms or why there should be a connection.”

A 2007 Tufts University study found that every 10-degree drop in temperature led to an incremental increase in arthritis pain. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens. They think it might be because of “certain atmospheric conditions increase swelling in the joint capsule.”

"Arthritis affects everything else within the joint itself, including the joint lining, which we call the synovium, as well as the ligaments that are within the joint," said Dr. James Gladstone, co-director of sports medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, on weather.com. "All of those tissues have nerve endings in them, so they're going to feel changes in the weather as tightness in the joint, or stiffness."

Arthritis sufferers look at barometric pressure, especially falling, and temperature, especially lowering, to seeing if their suffering increases. Many of them still say the answer to the question "does weather affect arthritis" is a resounding "yes."

The Arthritis Organization provides helpful hints for arthritis suffers to use when they are in pain.

By the way, I’m predicting cold and rain this weekend. My right knee is telling me that.

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About the Author

Mike Hardman is a veteran editor and journalist, working for on line and newspaper publications and in radio and television during a 35-year career. He has been honored nationally, regionally and statewide for excellence in editing and reporting. Mike was also a regional editor for AOL-Patch, covering Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and has written for a variety of publications, including GateHouse Media, the Boston Globe and the MetroWest Daily News. He earned a degree in Multidisciplinary studies (broadcast journalism) from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.