Can you feel the weather in your joints?

Blog by Victoria Butler

“There’s a storm coming. I can feel it in my bones!” If you’ve ever felt as though your bones can predict changes in weather patterns, or that your pain increases under certain weather conditions then you are not alone. This is something we hear quite regularly on the helpline, but is it just another of those weather myths we all know and love? 

In the UK, it is reported that 61% of UK adults believe that cows lying down is a sign that it is going to rain, though this has been found to be completely false. Meanwhile, around 75% of chronic pain patients believe that their level of pain can worsen in certain types of weather and, although there isn’t complete consensus about this, there is a decent amount of scientific research to back this up. 

One of the largest of these studies was launched by a group of University of Manchester-based researchers and their collaborators in 2016. For 14 months, 13,000 UK residents living with chronic pain conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, tracked their daily pain levels along with other factors that might affect their pain, such as mood, level of physical activity and quality of sleep. GPS location from their phone was used to track the weather each day and this data was then analysed. 

The results suggested that days with higher humidity, lower pressure and strong winds (in that order) were more likely to be associated with higher pain levels. Low pressure is commonly associated with unsettled weather, including cloudy skies, wind and rain. These findings are consistent with patient reports, which often reference cold, damp days or days of high humidity when describing the effects that weather appears to have on their joints. 

The study also showed that, whilst mood was unsurprisingly strongly associated with pain, the association between weather and pain could not be explained by its effect on either mood or physical activity. 

Other studies have also seen patterns in both weather and seasons affecting pain levels, with one study suggesting that the Spring and Winter months were associated with higher pain levels. 

One important thing to note is that though studies have found a link between certain weather types and the symptom of pain, they do not suggest that the progression of the disease is affected by weather. Therefore, if you were to move to somewhere with a warm, dry climate, your pain levels might be better, making you more comfortable day-to-day, but your rheumatoid arthritis would not be any more or less active. 

Living in the UK, weather can be quite variable and inconsistent, which is probably why we have such a reputation for loving to talk about it! As a result, it can be harder to plan activities around the weather. It is, however, worth being mindful that your pain may be affected by the weather and that long periods of especially humid or cold, wet weather could make a big difference to how you feel. 

If you think the weather might affect your pain levels, you could try keeping a diary for a while, where you track your pain score, on a level from 0-10 along with the weather conditions that day and any other factors that may be contributing to the pain, such as a change in medication or a flare.

For more information on RA symptoms, check out the link below.

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