Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Hand FAQ

Question:

Have you ever heard of people who think they can predict the weather by their aches and pains? I'm a little skeptical but whenever I want to know if it's going to be a good day for fishing, I ask my Grandpa and he is always spot on. What do you think about this?

Answer:

Like others who have relied on a family member with arthritis to predict an upcoming storm, you know there may be some kind of link between change in weather and joints. But what is that relationship? Is it real or imagined? Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for a while. In a recent study from Brazil, the influence of air pressure, temperature, humidity, and moisture (precipitation) was evaluated on pain, joint stiffness, and function of the hands in patients with osteoarthritis (OA). These measures of weather are referred to as meteorological variables. They did the study including 32 patients with known hand osteoarthritis (OA). Each patient filled out a survey answering questions about their hands. They did not know the study was about the influence of weather on hand arthritis. They answered questions like, How much pain (or stiffness) have you had in your hands? They completed the same survey three times a week throughout the months of July (summer) and November (winter). In Brazil where this study was done, July has the lowest average temperature and higher relative humidity than any other month. November has the highest temperatures with low atmospheric pressure and humidity. Those features make these two months the most logical ones to select for a study on weather and arthritis affecting the hands. After each patient completed the surveys, they compared the patient responses about pain, stiffness, and function against meteorological (weather) records. The patients ranged in ages from 45 to 77 with half being younger than 60 years of age. There were men and women included from all levels of income. Some were underweight while others were overweight. In other words, the patients included came in all sizes, shapes, and backgrounds. The two weather factors that had the greatest effect on hand arthritis were temperature and humidity. In fact, there was a significant relationship between temperatures the day before and the day after changes in hand pain. Some patients (but not all) were affected by atmospheric pressure. The effect was most noticeable on hand function. But the most interesting finding was that not everyone was affected in the same way. As you might expect, the lower the temperature, the more pain and stiffness with decreased function was experienced. But this wasn't true for everyone or even the majority of patients. And remember, they did not know the study was about the influence of weather on their arthritic hands. Some patients had improved symptoms when the temperature went up while others felt worse. It was the same with changes in humidity and atmospheric pressure. There were both positive and negative correlations between weather elements and arthritic effects. It appears that weather does have a correlation with symptoms associated with hand arthritis. But individual sensitivity is very different from one person to the next and cannot be predicted. More study is needed before the exact relationship between weather and hand arthritis can be fully understood. Other studies are needed to sort out all the different variables that can affect a person's response to weather. Medications they are taking, their mood, their overall health, and/or type of joint (or other soft tissue) diseases that are present may have an effect on what appear to be weather-related joint changes. Evania Claudino Queiroga de Figueiredo, MD, et al. Influence of Weather on Osteoarthritis of the Hands. In Current Orthopaedic Practice. March/April 2013. Vol. 24. No. 2. Pp. 171-177.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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