Can Your Joint Pain Really Predict the Weather?

Learn how cold weather, changes in barometric pressure, and other weather patterns can lead to joint pain.

Through a rain-soaked window—a man walks by in the cold weather—suffering barometric pressure joint pain and arthritis.

Updated on May 16, 2022.

Maybe you’re known as the family meteorologist because your stiff, achy joints tell you when a storm will be blowing in. It’s a fairly common phenomenon: For generations, people have sworn their knees, backs, and shoulders can predict the weather.

But the relationship between joint pain and a turbulent forecast is tough to prove decisively, and numerous studies over time have come to different conclusions. For example, one large 2017 analysis in the journal BMJ found no link between rainfall and healthcare visits for back or joint discomfort. But other, smaller studies have connected joint pain to humidity, precipitation, and both hotter and colder temperatures.

Though the science is up in the air, many experts say the abundant anecdotal evidence shouldn't be ignored. With that in mind, here’s how weather and joint pain might be intertwined, plus smart strategies for staving off the discomfort.

Barometric pressure and your joints 

One prevailing theory holds that barometric pressure plays a significant role in joint pain. To understand the relationship, it helps to have some background:

  • In your body, a joint is where two or more bones come together. It’s a complex structure that involves bone, ligaments, cartilage, synovial tissue, and a thick liquid called synovial fluid. 
  • In relation to weather, barometric pressure, also known as air pressure or atmospheric pressure, changes when warm air mixes with cool air. Falling barometric pressure often precedes storms.

“There are barometric receptors in the joints, and when the ambient pressure in the atmosphere changes, the receptors sense the change,” says Michael Miranda, DO, an orthopedic surgeon with Brandon Regional Hospital in Brandon, Florida. “Fluid shifts in the joint and the pressure in the joint changes. That allows for swelling of the tissue inside the joint.” The swelling, in turn, causes pain.

Any joint can be affected, Dr. Miranda explains, but weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, and ankles seem to be more likely to be involved. He says people often describe it as cold-weather joint pain and say it's a little worse than normal, an “aggravation of symptoms.” People may also notice stiffness in the muscles around the joint, he adds. 

Men and women are equally likely to feel pain and swelling in their joints when there’s a storm coming, says Miranda, and it can affect anyone at any age. People with arthritis often report weather-related joint pain, as do many with lupus and other rheumatic diseases.

What you can do 

You can’t control the weather, so how can you protect yourself? Be prepared, says Miranda. If you know there will be snow, keep extra layers handy to keep your joints warm. When there’s precipitation in the forecast, check with your healthcare provider about taking ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to lessen pain and swelling in your joints. 

Exercise can help keep your joints lubricated and the muscles around them strong and supportive. Aim for a mix of strength training and cardio. “Stay limber and do stretching,” adds Miranda.

Article sources open article sources

Cleveland Clinic. Can Your Joints Really Predict the Weather? July 2, 2020. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Harvard Health Publishing. Does weather affect arthritis pain? January 17, 2019. Accessed May 11, 2022. What Is the Jet Stream? 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
National Weather Service/NOAA. JetStream—An Online School for Weather. 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
MedlinePlus. Joint Disorders. December 13, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FAQs About Arthritis. October 12, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2022. NSAIDs. 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
NIH National Institute on Aging. Osteoarthritis. May 1, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Stojan G, Curriero F, et al. Environmental and Atmospheric Factors in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Regression Analysis. American College of Rheumatology Meeting Abstracts. 2019. Accessed May 11, 2022. Weather and Arthritis Pain. 2017. Accessed May 11, 2022.
Hackensack Meridian Health. Why Your Joints May Hurt During Rainy Weather. December 20, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2022.
University of Chicago Medicine. It's cold outside! Do your joints hurt? January 26, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2022.

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