Inclement Weather and Arthritic Pain

Author: Dr. Lindsay Jana, PT, DPT

Inclement Weather and Arthritic Pain

“My knees hurt when it rains.”

“My hip acts up when a storm is coming.”

“I can tell the weather is changing when my hands ache.”


These are just a few of the phrases patients have used when talking about their arthritic pain. When I was in school, a very knowledgeable professor taught that the weather has no effect on joints and that the increase in pain that people describe is actually caused by an illusory correlation where people perceive a correlation when none exists. This is akin to believing that wearing your lucky jersey will help your favorite team win the game. But is there evidence in the research supporting what our patients are describing?

Supportive Evidence: Bad weather and arthritic joint pain are related.

Researchers examining subjective reports of pain in people with arthritis found that 70% believe that their pain is influenced by the weather, with 40% reporting a significant increase in pain.1 Fall and winter were believed to cause more pain because of the seasons’ increased humidity (67%) and cooler temperatures (59%).1 Other studies have corroborated these findings by reporting that both cold temperature and increased barometric pressure moderately influence osteoarthritic knee pain.2 Osteoarthritic and rheumatoid pain and rigidity have also been linked to decreased temperature and increased relative humidity.3 Researchers are unsure of the link between weather and arthritis pain but suspect that certain atmospheric conditions cause the joint capsule swell, compressing nerve endings and provoking a pain response.2 The bottom line is that there is some evidence to support that weather changes increase arthritic pain.

Oppositional Evidence: Bad weather and arthritic pain are not related. 

Other studies negate the findings that arthritic pain and weather are related. One such study investigated the psychological phenomenon of selective matching, where the mind pairs coincidences and ignores contradictory evidence. With selective matching, people with arthritis look for changes in the weather when they experience increased pain and ignore the weather when their pain is normal. This leads to the belief that the two events are related. Furthermore, selective memory can make occurrences of pain with weather changes more memorable than mismatches between the events.4 Our patients’ belief that weather and arthritic pain are related may reveal more about the psychological workings of the mind than the body’s physiological processes.

The research evidence both supports and refutes the relationship between arthritic pain and the weather. Although the research is unclear, the cognitive association between weather and pain severity is very real for our patients. We as physical therapists must be sensitive to our patients’ subjective pain experiences and continue to treat their conditions to the best of our abilities.



  1. Figueiredo E, Figueiredo G, Dantas R. Influência de elementosmeteorológicosnador de pacientes com osteoartrite: revisão da literatura. Rev Bras Reumatol. 2011;51(6):622- doi:10.1590/s0482-50042011000600008.
  2. McAlindon T, Formica M, Schmid C, Fletcher J. Changes in Barometric Pressure and Ambient Temperature Influence Osteoarthritis Pain. The American Journal of Medicine. 2007;120(5):429-434. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.07.036.
  3. Aikman H. The association between arthritis and the weather. International Journal of Biometeorology. 1997;40(4):192-199. doi:10.1007/s004840050041.
  4. Redelmeier D, Tversky A. On the belief that arthritis pain is related to the weather. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 1996;93(7):2895-2896.  doi:10.1073/pnas.93.7.2895.