Why Your Joints Hurt & Ache When it’s Hot & Humid

By Liza

There are a small group of us within the R.A. community, who when the summer rolls round, you can hear the groans of despair clear around the world from whichever point you may occupy. You may wonder why.

The spring and summer months are balmy and hot, whereas the winter months are cold and (to many) miserable. Let’s face it, most media that we are bombarded with show older people (because these seem to be the only ones affected with joint issues) always grabbing their joints at the first inkling of winter. They run, in the proverbial sense, to the thermostat to raise it to the mid-80’s or they drive in droves to Florida, to either live or visit until the winter is over. But not us. We’re the ones who want to move up North. Crazy, I know. So, why is that?

You aren’t going to find the Holy Grail of an answer here. Straight-up, I will tell you that the data on this is contradictory. But still, people themselves will tell you why they feel better in one place over another I think that is important. I think it is dependent on you as a person (individually), like so many other things in life and medicine and with this, it’s how the weather ultimately affects you.

But I can give you some reasons why you aren’t crazy and how you can legitimately argue your case when your neighbor thinks you’re crazy and tells you that you need to get yourself to Florida with all the other retirees, when the time comes, and not Kansas. There are legitimate reasons for going somewhere North or at least for researching for somewhere not South.

Barometric Pressure & Joint Pain

Both Rising and falling barometric pressure have been linked to arthritis symptoms. In fact, because barometric pressure causes levels of fluid in the body to fluctuate, people can suffer everything from migraine headaches to joint pain, when barometric pressure rises. Low barometric pressure, especially when it occurs just before a storm often means that arthritis sufferers experience uncomfortable pressure in their joints. Back pan and knee pain are especially common before storms. “This joint pain is caused by a triggering of neuroreceptors in nerve endings that are sensitive in nerve endings that are sensitive to such change.” John Parenti of the Orthopedics Department of the Geisinger Medical Center of Pennsylvania. However, something interesting that has been learned is that orthopedic patients who move to dry climates rarely experience total relief after leaving wet and humid places. [1]

Dehydration

Link between humidity and dehydration in the body is pretty clear. High humidity levels thicken the blood which increases pressure in blood vessels and requires more effort to pump blood throughout the body. Dehydration causes joint pain because cartilage contains large amounts of water. Hot and humid environments cause excess sweating and loss of body fluid, which kind of makes absolute sense why so many of us out there are so miserable. Another reason?

“In well-hydrated cartilages, the rate of friction between bones is lower than in a dehydrated cartilage. As a result, dehydration can lead to increased degeneration and damage. Hydrated cartilages function better, and a well-lubricated spine can move more easily. Less friction results in the smoother spine. When there is a sufficient amount of water in cartilage, the risk of pain is lower. On the other hand, in dehydrated cartilage, the discs (shock absorbers that keep the bones from rubbing together) are unable to perform their functions unless they are fully hydrated. The cushioning ability of your disc is based on the water content. Since there is no enough water, this may lead to degeneration and severe pain in joints.” [2]

You have dehydration from lack of drinking water, or you can have dehydration from hot, humid temperatures, where the person isn’t drinking fast enough to replenish what they are losing. Either way you have dehydration, which is leading to joint pain and misery. And when 70-80% of your joint cartilage is made of water, it’s not surprising why water is such a big deal in why you are experiencing joint pain. Not to mention that with this dehydration, blood volume decreases and this causes a chain reaction which makes EVERYTHING work harder. “Your heart is compensating for weak blood volume by pumping harder and faster to get oxygen and blood to organs of your body. At the same time, your muscles work harder while your joints may not get proper friction and smoothness thus leading to the degeneration and ultimately severe pain.”

Temperature Variation

This has long been believed to be a trigger for joint pain; this being changes from warm and dry to damp and cold, which also triggered baroreceptors in joints that caused increased sensation of joint pain in all ages. [3] You have millions of people who swear they can tell, in their bones, when it will rain because of the onset or worsening of pain. But these people, as many as there may be, aren’t conclusive, scientific proof, and where we look for conclusive, scientific proof in studies, there hasn’t been any. However, other studies have found that the question may be more than weather not affecting or weather affecting pain. “It may be the case that there are two groups of people – those who are weather-sensitive and those who aren’t.”[4] This may be why we fall into this distinct group of summer haters. Okay, maybe not summer haters- there’s a lot to love about the summer, but why the summer doesn’t necessarily love us back.

In the end, as with so many other things about us as humans, it may boil down to individuality. Maybe it’s all wrapped up in our DNA. Could it be the same reasons why someone cilantro tastes like soap to one person and is a tasty addition to salsa to another? At the very least I hope that those of you out there who are condemned to staying indoors during the summer months, staying as cool as you can and staying hydrated, know you are not alone. This isn’t some bizarre curse cast upon you and if you do a little research, and understand your body, you can avoid some of the pitfalls and enjoy a bit of the season.

Lastly, remember when I said I could give you some reasons why you aren’t crazy and how you can legitimately argue your case when your neighbor thinks you’re crazy and tells you that you need to get yourself to Florida with all the other retirees–that there are legitimate reasons for going somewhere North or at least for researching for somewhere not South? The reason is You. If you feel better during cooler temperatures, there is no one out there who can tell you why you shouldn’t go where you feel best. Not a single soul. So, determine what is best for you, and if you are able to, plan out how you are going to live the rest of your life the best way possible.


[1] Stern, D. (2019). How Humidity Causes Joint Pain | Livestrong.com. [online] LIVESTRONG.COM. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/35066-humidity-causes-joint-pain/ [Accessed 7 Jul. 2019].

[2] Stern, D. (2019). How Humidity Causes Joint Pain | Livestrong.com. [online] LIVESTRONG.COM. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/35066-humidity-causes-joint-pain/ [Accessed 7 Jul. 2019].

[3] Stern, D. (2019). How Humidity Causes Joint Pain | Livestrong.com. [online] LIVESTRONG.COM. Available at: https://www.livestrong.com/article/35066-humidity-causes-joint-pain/ [Accessed 7 Jul. 2019].

[4] Apmhealth.com. (2019). What’s the Connection Between the Weather and Pain Levels? – Advanced Pain Management. [online] Available at: https://www.apmhealth.com/news-updates/apm-blog/item/121-whats-the-connection-between-the-weather-and-pain-levels [Accessed 7 Jul. 2019].

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