Does Weather Really Affect Arthritis?

For years, many people have believed that arthritis sufferers do best in dry, warm climates and worse in areas that are typically cold and wet. In fact, some doctors have even prescribed moves across the country for patients. But is it a fact that the conditions outside affect arthritis symptoms?

The short answer is yes, for some people. Results of several studies on this topic have been inconclusive. In one study conducted in sunny, warm Argentina, 151 people with either osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia (a condition that causes widespread pain in various parts of the body, often without apparent cause) were compared with 32 people who had none of those diseases. Each participant kept a journal recording what pain or other symptoms they were feeling, and the researchers compared the logs with the weather recorded on those days, including factors such temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. While all of the arthritic or fibromyalgic patients felt more pain on colder days as well as more humid ones, their responses to barometric pressure were uneven. Also, none of the responses to weather conditions were strong enough for researchers to say definitively that pain and weather were correlated.

Another study, this one in Florida, involved 154 senior citizens with osteoarthritis in various parts of their bodies. For two years, the seniors reported their arthritis pain, which was examined in relation to the weather conditions on those days. The result? No statistically significant correlation between temperature, barometric pressure and humidity, with one exception-a slight rise in hand pain in women when there was rising barometric pressure.

Why do some people do better in warmer, drier climates? Scientists think that one reason may be a drop in air pressure on cold, rainy days. This drop in pressure causes already irritated joint tissue to expand. It's also possible that people are less tolerant of pain in colder weather, that "icky" weather negatively affects our mood, and that people are less likely to get out and exercise on dreary days. All of these things can cause people to report experiencing more arthritis symptoms.

The bottom line is this: If you think you'll feel better living in Arizona than in Maine, by all means consider making the move. Just be aware that climate is not associated with arthritis symptoms in all people. And, of course, a warmer, drier climate may relieve your symptoms but will not change the course of your arthritis.

Johns Hopkins Medicine