“I can feel it in my bones – there’s a storm brewing!”
Since the beginning of time, grandmas have been predicting the weather based on their achy joints! But as anyone with arthritis knows, the weather connection is no old wives’ tale. People report feeling stiff and sore in the run-up to certain weather events, but others argue that it’s a placebo. So what’s going on? Does the weather really affect arthritis, or is it all our minds?
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation and pain in one or more joints. It’s a broad term that includes many different types of joint inflammation, but the main types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type and affects almost 9 million people in the UK. It most commonly occurs in the joints of the hands, knees, hips and spine, and begins by affecting the smooth cartilage that lines the joint. As it progresses, cartilage is lost, the tendons and ligaments swell, and painful bone spurs to form. In severe cases, bone can grind against bone, altering the shape and position of the joints and bones.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects around 400,000 Brits. It happens when the immune system attacks the outer covering of the joints, causing painful swelling and inflammation. As it spreads across the joint, it can change the joint’s shape and cause bone and cartilage to break down. It can also cause problems with other tissues and organs.
How is arthritis connected to the weather?
Cloudy with a Chance of Pain, a recent study from the University of Manchester, asked 13,000 people to track their chronic pain symptoms. Researchers then cross-referenced pain symptoms against the weather to see which conditions were linked to flare-ups. They confirmed what arthritis sufferers have been saying for some time: arthritis symptoms tend to get worse in humid, rainy and/or cold weather.
Another survey found that osteoarthritis pain increased as temperatures and barometric pressure, or air pressure, dropped. On the other hand, this Dutch study found that pain got worse as barometric pressure increased. While this might sound like the studies contradict each other, they actually suggest that it’s the change in pressure that causes problems.
So why does this happen? Well, a change in barometric pressure can impact arthritic joints by causing tendons and muscles to expand or contract. This might put pressure on inflamed joints, or nerves that have been exposed because of cartilage loss.
Meanwhile, lower temperatures can make the fluid in your joints thicker, causing stiffness and swelling. Cold weather can also stop you from getting out and exercising or staying active.
What to do about weather-related arthritis pain
Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather! What we can do, though, is prepare for it. The Weather Flare app will help you keep track of which weather condition(s) affects your arthritis pain, and then alert you when it’s approaching.
1. Plan ahead.
When an arthritis flare-up is on the forecast, make sure to stock up on the essentials like heat packs and pain relief. Take a look at your schedule over the coming days to see where you can lighten the load. Can you work from home? Shuffle some social events? Plan a relaxed night in or two?
2. Stay warm.
If you’re going to be staying home, crank up the heating, grab a hot water bottle or heat pack, or take a long, hot bath. If you’re going out, check the forecast, wrap up warm, and take some extra layers in case the temperature drops further.
3. Keep active.
It’s the last thing we want to do during an arthritis flare-up, but it really does help! Keep your joints mobile with low-impact exercises like yoga or swimming. If you’re really struggling, even a short walk or some gentle stretches will keep things moving.
4. Look after yourself.
Poor sleep, nutrition and mental wellbeing can make a flare-up even worse. If you know a weather-related flare-up is on the cards, pre-prepare some healthy meals so you can eat well with minimum effort. Plan some early nights and consider meditation, mindfulness or breathing exercises to keep stress under control.
Remember, while we can’t control the weather, we can plan ahead and make sure we’re as comfortable and prepared as possible. That’s where Weather Flare comes in.
We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the Weather Flare app. We’re trying to make it as helpful as possible for people with chronic conditions, so we’d love your feedback on what’s working for you and what we could improve. Download the beta Weather Flare app now on iOS and Android to get started!
Help us crowdfund to finish building the Weather Flare app. The finished version will learn how the weather is affecting the user’s condition/s and produce a personalised weather forecast showing good, bearable and tricky days. https://igg.me/at/weatherflare/x#/