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weather and joint pain||runner with joint pain in the knee

Health & Wellness

Can Weather Affect How the Body Reacts to Aches and Pains?

Everyone has probably said or has heard someone say: “It’s going to rain. I can feel it.” And sometimes, they’re right. This begs the question: is there a genuine link between weather change and the pain people might feel in their joints?

Studies of Weather Changes

A study performed in 2014 in individuals with osteoarthritis helps shed some light on the issue. It was published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders and asked 712 people if weather affected their pain and how. 1 Sixty-nine percent of individuals surveyed reported that the weather did indeed affect the amount of pain they suffered.

Another study in 2011 published in the European Journal of Pain came to a similar conclusion. 2 So, even according to peer-reviewed studies, there appears to be ample evidence supporting a connection between the pain people feel and current or future weather.

However, many people still feel this is nothing more than an urban legend. It doesn’t seem feasible for a person to be able to sense a future event, especially simply due to a medical condition. Also, from an outside perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a link between what happens in the physical surroundings and what occurs inside the body.

In fact, humans have our skin and other membranes that are designed to shield people from what happens on the outside. Additionally, these studies simply measured individuals who reported that weather affected their pain but did not explore the biological mechanism for why this happens. So, is there really any scientific basis for why many people can feel weather changes before they come? It turns out, the answer is yes.

Relationship Between Weather and Joint Pain

To understand the apparent connection between weather changes and pain in the joints, it helps to examine what happens when the results of several studies are combined. The points of commonality in these studies are moisture and cold.

For instance, a person may report that they knew a cold system was coming into the area was going to produce heavy rain because they could feel an increase in the level of pain in their joints. If the common denominators are cold and wetness, how does this connect to the body? An examination of barometric pressure helps shed some light on the issue.

Barometric Pressure What is Barometric Pressure?

Barometric pressure essentially measures how much air weighs. The heavier the air, the higher the barometric pressure reading. Moisture in the air makes the air weigh more because moisture is denser than vapor, or air. 3

If you take a glass of water and a glass full of air, this is very apparent. However, you can also feel the difference simply from being in atmospheres with more or less moisture in the air. For instance, if you’ve been to a dry desert area and then visited a humid seaside area a short time afterwards, you can feel the difference when you breathe. Taking in breaths can require more effort when it is humid outside. This is due to the increased mass of the air you’re breathing in.

That higher mass stems from the presence of moist air, water vapor that has not yet condensed into liquid form, being drawn into your lungs. When this heavier air hits a barometer, it causes the pressure reading to go up.

Effects of Weather Changes

It turns out that the body acts in a way similar to a barometer. When there is more moisture in the air, the higher density of the air creates more air pressure. That air pressure surrounds the body and affects the pressure within the body as well.

This is a concept similar to the pressure a diver feels when submerged in water. The effects of pressure get more drastic when a diver takes a breath deep down and then comes up quickly without depressurizing: they get the bends. The bends demonstrate the connection between atmospheric pressure outside the body and pressure inside the body.

A similar but more subtle pressure is applied by a moist atmosphere onto the joints. There are air pockets in the joints, and they are affected by the pressure outside the body in the same way that the bends affect the air pressure in the lungs and bloodstream of divers.

Additionally, all of the malleable fibers in the body will be compressed or expanded with changes in air pressure. This includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, scar tissues, and even the bones. The increase in pressure to these areas results in aches and pains.

runner with joint pain in the knee Effects of Cold

The connection between the cold and pain is not as scientifically straightforward as the effects of barometric pressure. However, there are some strong theories that may help explain why pain increases when it gets colder. 4

The fluids in the joints provide lubrication when individuals move. They also take up space inside the joints, affecting how individuals feel. When it’s colder, this fluid may get thicker. Hence, the lubrication will suffer because the liquid isn’t as malleable as it was when it was warmer. The increase in friction could result in pain.

Effects of Perceptions or Habits

Cold weather is more often associated with “bad” weather, and warm weather is typically labeled as “good.” When some people feel cold, they feel worse in general. This feeling can affect how they perceive pain, without any other direct physical cause.

Also, when the temperature drops, people have a tendency to stay inside and do less activity. Inactivity is a prime cause of joint pain.


All sources of pain can be relieved. One way to relieve pain is by being more active whenever the weather starts to turn. The activity should be moderate to avoid exacerbating any injuries, but even moderate activity will help ease pain.

Essential oils also help supplement a pain-management routine. Using them in accordance with the weekly weather forecast can help prevent additional pain even before it starts. Start using essential oils hours or a days before inclement weather is supposed to hit. Try using these essential oils topically after dilution with a carrier oil or aromatically in a room diffuser or portable diffuser.

Now that you understand the reason that your joints may hurt when the weather turns, you’re on your way to effectively finding ways to manage that pain and improving your overall health.

Photo credits: MichalChmurski/, tommaso79/, OlegDoroshin/

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