Uncover the simple, scientific link between achy joints and bad weather

Some people swear they can feel a storm coming in their arthritic joints. Or in joints where they’ve had surgery. In fact, almost two-thirds of men and women with osteoarthritis report that rain, increases in barometric pressure and cold temperatures cause pain and stiffness in their joints.

Turns out, this isn’t just phantom pain. There’s actually something to this phenomenon, according to a small, but interesting new study.

For this study, Dutch researchers looked at self-reported daily pain levels in 222 patients with osteoarthritis of the hip. These patients were actually part of an earlier study involving the joint supplement glucosamine. (Glucosamine simply isn’t a real solution for joint pain. So I’m not surprised study participants had plenty of joint pain to report.)

The patients assessed their joint pain using a standard pain score index called the WOMAC index. Scores range from 0 to 100, with 100 being maximum pain.

Then, the researchers compared the pain data to weather reports over the two-year period. Researchers consulted weather reports from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute including average daily temperatures, wind speed, hours of sunlight, rainfall, humidity, and barometric pressure.

They found that patients experienced more aches, pains, and stiffness when humidity and barometric pressure rose. In fact, pain scores worsened by 1 percent for each 10 percent increase in humidity. And joint function scores worsened by 1 percent for every 0.29-inch increase in barometric pressure.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients often say that cold, damp conditions can aggravate their symptoms. So it makes sense that osteoarthritis patients would experience similar symptoms.

Scientists at my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, conducted the first real scientific research into this phenomenon back in 1960. You see, Penn had an environmental physiology laboratory for studying high-altitude (low pressure) for the Air Force and undersea (high pressure) for the Navy.

In a large, controlled barometric chamber, Penn scientists studied the effects of humidity and atmospheric pressure. They discovered that arthritis patients felt worse when subjected to a combination of increased humidity and falling pressure. This differs from the Dutch study, which found that higher pressure aggravated symptoms.

So maybe it’s just the changes in pressure that contribute to joint pains.

I think of it this way…

When your joints are inflamed, they swell and irritate your joint tissues. And when weather pressure changes, it changes the pressure outside the joint. This change in pressure may further aggravate sensitive joint tissues.

For example, falling pressure outside the joint may allow irritated joints to swell or expand more. But rising pressure outside the joint places more pressure on the joint.

So perhaps any change–up or down–in pressure can increase joint pain.

Of course, some modern medical experts still just shrug their shoulders when their patients complain of about the weather increasing their pain. But maybe they should consult their old classes in geophysics and earth sciences. Or even their medical history textbooks.

Hundreds of years ago, physicians paid a lot of attention to the weather. I completed my medical residency in pathology at Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital. Benjamin Franklin founded it in 1752. We recorded every post-mortem examination in a huge ledger book dating back to the founding of the hospital. In fact, in the early years of the 18th and 19th centuries, there was always a notation regarding the weather. Colonial physicians in early America routinely recorded weather conditions at the time of a patient’s death. They believed environmental conditions, including bad air (literally “mal aria”), had a profound effect.

Thankfully, in the modern era nobody really has to suffer with joint pain. No matter what the weather forecast says.

To control joint pain and support joint repair, I recommend three natural remedies that reduce inflammation and support natural joint repair: boswellia (frankincense), tumeric, and ashwaganda.

And I always recommend staying away from prescription and OTC drugs. They can be toxic. (Remember, NEVER take Tylenol or acetaminophen for anything. Ever. Period.)  And don’t waste your time–or money–on ineffective glucosamine and chondroitin supplements.

So now, when the first big spring storm comes through, you’ll know the scientific explanation behind your achy joints. And you’ll also know what helps. And what doesn’t.


1. “Associations between weather conditions and clinical symptoms in patients with hip osteoarthritis: A 2-year cohort study,” Pain: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain, published online 1/24/2014