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Do Your Joints Ache When a Storm Is Brewing? Here's What's Really Happening

Does cold weather affect joint pain? If your joint pain is a good indicator that a storm is coming, it may be time to see a medical professional.

By Sara Novak; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
Feb 1, 2024 5:00 PM
woman with joint pain because of cold
(Credit: Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock)

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If you can sense changes in the weather based on aches and pains in your body, you aren’t alone. Many people, especially older individuals with arthritis, claim that they can feel the weather based on the pain in their joints. While research hasn’t nailed down these weather-related pain claims, anecdotal evidence persists. 

How the Weather Impacts Your Joints

It’s probably why so many people want to retire where it’s warm, says Aly Cohen, a rheumatologist in Princeton, New Jersey. Cold weather, especially changes in the temperature, can be painful.

If you look at the anatomy of the human body, there are 350 joints, but those in the hands, knees, hip, and spine are most likely to be impacted by arthritic pain. Many of the joints have what’s called bursae, or fluid-filled sacks at the joints meant to reduce friction between their moving parts. And it’s these points that seem to endure the brunt of the pain.

Bursae, the little balloons that help cushion joints, are impacted by air pressure. Weather patterns can also cause changes in air pressure, also known as barometric pressure. The atoms and molecules that make up the atmosphere exert force, and when there’s an addition or subtraction of heat in the atmosphere, it can change air pressure.

Cohen says changes in humidity levels, drops in temperature, or an upcoming rainstorm can all cause drops in atmospheric pressure, which can be felt as tenderness in the joints.

“It’s almost a joke that my patients can tell the weather better than a meteorologist,” says Cohen. “They can feel pressure on the bursae from the external world.”


Read More: Carpal Tunnel Still Impacts Millions – Here's How You Can Manage It


What Are the Different Types of Arthritis?

When it comes to arthritis, there are several types. The two most common are osteoarthritis, when the cartilage between the joints is broken down due to wear and tear, and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the lining of the joints.

Other types of arthritis include gout, where crystals form in the joints due to a build-up of uric acid, and psoriatic arthritis, caused by psoriasis, and lupus, another autoimmune disease.

Arthritis is, by definition, inflammation of the joints, and it doesn’t matter what type of arthritic condition you have. “It just matters whether or not it’s controlled,” says Cohen.

The goal is to stabilize your condition so that when weather changes happen, you’re ready. Stress, repetitive motion, diet, certain medications, and infections can also be arthritic triggers. 


Read More: What Causes Arthritis and How to Prevent It


How to Prevent Joint Pain in Cold Weather

Short of moving to Florida or Arizona, it’s hard to control the weather. But, says Cohen, you can stabilize your condition so that you’re prepared when a weather change comes your way. Keep your weight down because extra pounds put weight on the joints and can increase the pain associated with them. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation, certain types of foods are more likely to cause a flare-up with joint inflammation and should be removed or minimized in your diet. For example, sugar has been shown to trigger the release of cytokines in the body, which can increase inflammation. Other culprits include trans fats and refined carbohydrates found in highly processed foods, MSG, aspartame, and alcohol.

“Over-activity and under-activity both play a role,” says Cohen. Over the long term, there’s a use it or lose it mentally. You have to use your joints if you want them to keep working smoothly. But at the same time, if you haven’t trained and you decide to run ten miles all in one day, you’re going to feel it in your joints.

Always keep things moving because, anthropologically, we’re meant to move. “But, don’t just jump into January really heavy without building up to it,” says Cohen. Be realistic. And if you’re starting to feel pain in your joints, see a rheumatologist to get in front of any joint damage. In the end, if you take care of your joints, they’ll take care of you.


Read More: How Many Bones Are in the Human Body, And Other Fascinating Facts About Skeletons


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