If you know someone who swears they can predict the weather based on their joint pain, you might want to grab your umbrella the next time they tell you it’s going to rain.
“There is definitely something to it, although it is difficult to prove, because we can’t control barometric pressure,” says Dr. Nancy Nowlin.
Nowlin’s Lawrence practice includes several patients who believe their aching joints are good indications of what the weather will do. One of those patients is Wanda Howard, who suffers with rheumatoid arthritis.
“Humidity is the biggest factor,” Howard says. “The higher the humidity, the more pain I feel. If a bad storm is moving in, my joints just don’t want to work at all.”
This kind of weather-related joint pain is verified by Dr. Javad Parvizi of the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Parvizi is one of the nation’s leading joint specialists and says joint pain related to weather is typically seen in patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, a rheumatic disorder that causes joint pain.
The ability to predict weather may be a result of our joints containing sensory nerves called baroreceptors, which respond to changes in atmospheric pressure. These receptors react when there is low barometric pressure, meaning the atmosphere has gone from dry to moist, like when it is going to rain, according to a press release issued by the hospital.
“When pressure in the environment changes, we know that the amount of fluid in the joint or the pressure inside the joint fluctuates with it. Individuals with arthritic joints feel these changes much more because they have less cartilage to provide cushioning,” Parvizi says in the press release.
Howard says if a bad storm is coming she can feel it in every joint in her body. Another theory as to why this may be is that a drop in air pressure, which often accompanies cold, rainy weather, allows tissues in the body to expand, meaning already inflamed tissue swells more and causes increased arthritis pain.
“If humidity is low and the weather is nice, I do well, but high humidity can put me in bed,” she says.
Howard, a lifelong Lawrence resident, now spends most of the summer in Colorado and most of the winter in Texas to try to avoid the high humidity. When she’s home, she has to run her air conditioner all the time in an attempt to keep the moisture as low as possible.
Howard says the disease can be painfully controlling. But she keeps her sense of humor despite the challenges of living with rheumatoid arthritis. Howard laughed as she reported that she can often predict the weather with more accuracy than the meteorologists.
“My daughter calls me for the weather report all the time,” Howard says.