This Is Why Your Knees Hurt When It Rains

By | September 1, 2020

There are studies that people have more joint pain when cold or rainy weather is coming. And there are studies that find that there’s no relationship between the weather and joint pain.

“There are a slew of scientists who think associating joint pain with rain is akin to a rodent predicting an extended winter,” says Milo F. Bryant, CSCS, owner of Milo-Limitless Fitness in Del Mar, California. “There’s no definitive proof on either side.”

Or, really, there’s quite a bit of evidence on both sides. A 2007 study from Tufts University, published in the American Journal of Medicine, for instance, looked at what happened to 200 people with osteoarthritis of the knee when the weather changed. “They found that for every 10-degree drop in temperature, knee pain went up. Increases in barometric pressure also were associated with worsened pain,” explains MH advisor Michael Fredericson, MD, FASM, Professor and Director, PM&R Sports Medicine, at Stanford University. When Dutch researchers looked at the effect of the weather on people with hip osteoarthritis, “they discovered that pain scores worsened by one point for each 10 percent rise in humidity. Function scores also declined as barometric pressure increased,” he adds.

And he points out that other studies have shown conflicting results, citing one study that matched the weather to more than 11 million Medicare visits and found no link between joint pain and the weather, and two more from Australia that basically found the same thing.

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Why your knees might be hurting

But the fact is, plenty of people who have arthritis in their joints do feel more pain when it’s cold or rainy. “Changes in barometric pressure may make your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue around the joint expand and contract, creating pain in joints affected by arthritis,” says Dr. Fredericson. Low temperatures can also thicken synovial fluid in the joints, making them feel achy.

“Synovial fluid is essentially 10w-40 for our joints. It allows them to glide and move with smoothness and efficiency during rotation, flexion, and extension,” says Bryant. So if that synovial fluid thickens, it makes sense that your joints feel more stiff.

Take it seriously if your knees hurt

All of our experts told us that it doesn’t matter what the weather studies say. If you have knee pain, you need to respect the pain and do what it takes to make it better.

“I take an ontological approach to my training, meaning that what is present is real for my athletes,” says Bryant. If they feel pain, “we have to prepare and deal with that reality. And they don’t have to move to a warmer climate for that preparation.”

The first thing you need to do if your knees hurt in bad weather is get them checked out, says Joshua Grahlman, PT, DPT, founder of Clutch PT in Manhattan. “I spend as much time helping people get out of the patterns they’ve created in compensating for their pain as I do on helping people with what’s been causing their pain,” he says.

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“Younger, healthy people really shouldn’t be feeling air pressure changes in their joints,” Grahlman says. Usually, that happens when there’s already some arthritis in the joint. But there are many other reasons for knee pain, so it’s important to get the right diagnosis.

What to do if your knees hurt when it rains

“Live by the mantra, ‘motion is lotion,’” says Grahlman. “That means you should move the joint as much as possible. If you stop moving because of pain, it’s going to hurt even more when you do move. The body doesn’t just respond to stimulus, it responds to a lack of stimulus as well.”


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Beyond just doing low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, or easy cycling, find someone to help you develop an appropriate strength training program as well. That can help you maintain strength and a good range of motion that will keep pain down over the long run, Grahlman explains.

“A true strength training program; one that includes ample fundamental movement skills and drills, and takes athletes’ bodies to end ranges of motion under appropriate loads,” says Bryant. “Consistency in such a program helps the athlete maintain a body with more than enough joint mobility and stability to handle Mother Nature’s ups and downs.”

To cut down on the episodic pain, Dr. Fredericson says, “Consider an anti-inflammatory diet to decrease systemic inflammation, which is associated with increased inflammatory markers in the joints.” A taste-friendly anti-inflammatory diet: the Mediterranean diet.

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When the weather’s bad and your joints are hurting, also “try to stay warm with additional layers of clothing, take frequent warm showers, baths, or saunas, and consider pain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, curcumin, or CBD,” Dr. Fredericson says.

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