Best Climate for Arthritis Patients: Humidity's Impact on Your Joints

How does climate impact people living with arthritis? Learn the best climate for arthritis and how humidity and other weather patterns can affect your joints. 

There’s no denying it, weather and climate can have a significant effect on arthritis and painful joints. Many report that humidity, along with other factors such as temperature and weather changes and weather patterns, increase joint pain or trigger arthritis flares. For some, humidity and weather’s effect on their joints is so bothersome that they seek relief by moving to drier, temperate climates.

But will a change of climate really help joint pain? And if so, what is the best climate for people with arthritis? What weather is safest for joints? Before you start packing, consider what the research has to say about the effects of weather and climate on arthritis.

What the Research Says

While the weather’s effects on arthritis have long troubled people with the disease and intrigued researchers who study it, the connection between weather and joint pain is not well understood. Yet studies — while conflicting in some cases — offer important clues. One of the most recent and largest is a 2019 British study in which more than 2,600 participants who entered symptom information into their smart phones in real-time over a 15-month period. The phones’ GPS allowed scientist to collect precise weather data based on participants location.

Analysis of that data showed a modest, but significant, correlation between pain and three weather components — relative humidity, air pressure and wind speed. Temperature, however, did not have a significant association with pain.

In a handful of earlier, smaller studies, however, temperature was shown to have an effect on arthritis pain. For example, a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Rheumatology found that among 810 participants with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee, hand and/or hip, daily average humidity and temperature had a significant effect on joint pain. The effect of humidity on pain was stronger in relatively cold weather conditions. In a separate 2007 study of 200 people with knee OA, pain increased with every 10-degree drop in temperature.

Lower temperatures have been shown to have a similar effect on patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A 2013 Spanish study of 245 RA patients who visited the emergency room 306 times due to RA-related complaints found that patients were 16% more likely to present a flare with lower mean temperatures. A 2021 Chinese study, which analyzed hospital admission data from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2019, found a significant association between low temperature and admission for RA.

Conversely, warmer temperatures have been associated with the worsening of gout and some lupus symptoms. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that among 632 participants with gout, there was a significant dose-response relationship between mean temperature in the prior 48 hours and the risk of subsequent gout attack. Higher temperatures were associated with approximately 40% higher risk of gout attack compared with moderate temperatures. A study published in 2020 in Arthritis & Rheumatology found that an increase in temperatures was associated with joint complaints, rashes and inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart and lungs in people with lupus.

Studies have also found correlations between seasonal fluctuations and arthritis symptoms. In one systematic review and meta-analysis, gout was found to develop significantly more in spring, between March and July, when temperatures were rising. Another study looked at a database of rheumatoid arthritis patients and found that RA activity was higher in the spring and lower in the fall. Neither of these determined, however, what climatologic changes led to the increase and decrease in disease activity and symptoms.

How Weather Might Affect You

If weather does in fact affect arthritis, the studies show the connection is not always clear and may not be direct.

Possible explanations include:

  • Lower temperatures my lead to thickening of the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. This thickening could lead to joint pain and stiffening.
  • Bones and connective tissue in our bodies, like structures in our homes, become smaller or larger in response to changes in barometric pressure. Cadaver studies have shown that barometric pressure can influence pressure in the joints. 
  • Alternatively, stretches of cloudy or rainy days may lead to low mood, which may cause people to focus more on their pain.
  • On cold, rainy days, patients may be less likely to be out and active. Lack of physical activity is known to worsen joint pain and stiffness.

The effect may be different for different people and, as the research suggests, are different for different forms of arthritis.  

What’s the Best Climate – and Should You Move?

Just as the effects of weather vary, the best climate may not be the same for all people. But based on research, it appears that for most people with arthritis, a warmer, drier climate may be optimal, such as that in parts of Texas, Arizona, Nevada and the Eastern Sierra region of California.

But obviously there are no absolutes and no guarantees that moving to a different climate would help your arthritis.

If you suspect a certain locale or climate is better for your arthritis and are considering a move, try visiting at different times of the year before moving there to see if you really notice a difference. And even if you do, consider what you will be giving up by moving. Unless a move also means getting a better job or being closer to family, the benefits of staying put (for example, friendships, jobs, schools, access to medical care and established social supports) may exceed the benefits of moving.

If you decide it’s best to stay put in a climate that is less than optimal, there are things you can do to minimize weather’s effects on your arthritis. First, check the weather forecast. If you notice patterns or temperatures that cause you pain, be prepared with tools you have found to relieve it.

When cold weather comes, dressing for warmth can help you weather problems like achy joints and hand pain related to Raynaud’s syndrome. Also, be mindful of other steps to staying healthy as the weather changes — getting your flu shot in fall, upping your vitamin D in winter and applying sunscreen and other sun protection, particularly if you have lupus or take medicines that make you more sun sensitive in the summer months.

With a little preparation and planning you can be more comfortable whatever the weather brings.

Check your local arthritis weather index so you can better prepare for how your climate may affect your joints.

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