Research shows that certain aspects of the weather may be linked to severe bouts of ankylosing spondylitis.
Factors such as cold weather, humidity, high heat, and wind may act as triggers that change or even worsen symptoms. Treatment and a healthy lifestyle may help offset the effects of these changes. Knowing the way weather affects your illness can help you manage the disease.
This article describes how some aspects of the weather can affect ankylosing spondylitis and what you can do to cope with these types of triggers.
Ankylosing Spondylitis and Weather
People with arthritic conditions like ankylosing spondylitis often claim that their symptoms react to changes in the weather. Though various studies report that arthritic joints become more painful when it's cold and damp, others may report feeling worse when the temperatures are warm and dry.
Studies investigating the weather's effect on arthritic symptoms have produced inconclusive results. Though results indicate that the impact of the weather exists for some people, it varies by person in the same way that the disease affects people differently.
Barometric Pressure and Arthritis
There is some evidence that changes in barometric pressure (a measure of the weight of the surrounding air) may impact arthritis symptoms in some people.
The pressure from this air pushes against your body and helps to prevent the expansion of tendons, muscles, and bones. When the barometric pressure changes, it can contribute to the expansion and contraction of these elements, causing pain in the areas affected by arthritis.
Weather-Related AS Triggers
The impact of specific weather-related AS triggers can vary by person. Why certain factors affect some people with arthritic conditions more than others is unclear. It may depend on the fact that some people are more weather-sensitive, regardless of their disease state.
Below is how different weather factors can act as triggers for flare-ups for some people with ankylosing spondylitis and other types of arthritis.
Many people complain that their chronic pain increases during cold weather. Scientists don't know why cold weather—or any other weather-related factor—affects some people more than others.
Research indicates that the relationship between arthritis and cold weather is more than anecdotal.
A 2015 study in theJournal of Rheumatology, called the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA), examined the effect of weather conditions on joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis. Though 67% of participants reported that weather affected their pain, 30% of these weather-sensitive participants said they were only sensitive to cold weather. Of note:
- The highest level of joint pain intensity was in the winter
- The lowest level of joint pain intensity was in autumn
Researchers concluded that there was a significant impact between daily average humidity and temperature on joint pain, with the effects of humidity on pain more significant in colder weather. Possible causes for this include:
- Humidity and temperature may promote the expansion and contraction of different tissues in the affected joints, triggering a pain response.
- The viscosity of the body's synovial fluid may increase in low temperatures. (Synovial fluid is the liquid that lubricates your joints and allows them to move easily.) This effect may contribute to joint stiffness and make the joints more sensitive to mechanical stresses.
Does Cold Weather Affect Arthritis?
The results of several studies point to humidity as a factor in triggering flare-ups in ankylosing spondylitis and other types of arthritis.
In a 2021 review of ankylosing spondylitis patient visits to a general hospital in China, researchers found a link between high humidity and an increase in the number of ankylosing spondylitis patients visiting the hospital.
In a 2019 study, researchers at the University of Manchester monitored over 13,000 UK residents living with chronic pain from a wide range of conditions using a smartphone app. Most participants had some form of arthritis. The results showed that higher-pain days were more likely to occur when there was higher humidity. Researchers reported "significant yet modest" links between pain reported by participants and daily variations in relative humidity, among other factors.
These support the findings of earlier research that report a link between humidity and arthritis symptoms:
- Researchers in the EPOSA study reported a link between humidity and increasing pain and stiffness, especially during colder weather.
- Researchers in a 2015 study on patients with rheumatoid arthritis in Belfast found that disease activity increased with humidity and was significantly lower in sunnier and less humid conditions.
However, the link between humidity and arthritic conditions is inconclusive. Research from a 2017 study of 11 million older Americans found no statistically relevant relationship between joint pain and rainy weather.
Best Climate for Arthritis
Though it's more common for people to complain about the effect of cold, damp weather on ankylosing spondylitis and other forms of arthritis, high heat can make the condition worse for some.
In the 2015 EPOSA study of joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis, 5% of weather-sensitive participants reported sensitivity to hot weather. Researchers proposed that the expansion and contraction that occurs with temperature changes may affect tissues in the affected joints, triggering pain.
A 2020 study of 117 patients with rheumatoid arthritis reported that the effect of extreme temperatures in the summer and winter was significant. Researchers proposed that they could attribute the increase in disease activity during the summer to the frequent tissue swelling that occurs with warmer temperatures.
How Summer Heat May Worsen Your Chronic Pain
Temperatures aren't the only factors that can impact the way you feel. There is evidence of the influence of high wind on symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis and other types of rheumatic conditions.
Researchers in the 2019 study from the University of Manchester reported that stronger winds ranked third after higher humidity and lower pressure and significantly effected increased pain among the participants. The results point to a humid and windy day with low pressure as the type of weather most likely to lead to the most pain.
The Arthritis and Weather Connection
How to Cope With Weather-Related Flare-Ups
Recognizing that certain conditions can lead to weather-related flare-ups can help you prepare to manage your pain. Depending on the type of triggers that you experience, consider these steps to manage your condition:
- During periods of extreme temperatures, plan to stay indoors in areas where you can regulate temperature with heating or air-conditioning as needed.
- Consider using a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity indoors and normalize it at a steady level.
- Check the Arthritis Foundation's Weather & Arthritis Index to see how the current weather and upcoming conditions could potentially affect your levels of pain.
- Dress in layers so you have the chance to adjust to sudden changes in temperature that might aggravate your pain.
Other than planning for specific weather events, coping with weather-related flare-ups doesn't differ much from how you handle any type of ankylosis spondylitis flare-up, regardless of its origin.
The following strategies are usually advisable when dealing with flare-ups:
- Restart or increase your daily dose of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as advised by your healthcare practitioner.
- Modify your exercise routine as necessary but don't remain sedentary because exercise helps relieve ankylosing spondylitis pain.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Use heat or child therapy for pain.
- Practice stress relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing.
- Contact your healthcare provider if a flare-up lasts longer than a few days.
Living Well With Ankylosing Spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis causes chronic pain and stiffness in your joints. Like other types of arthritis, it can cause flare-ups that involve spells of more severe pain. These flares can last for days to weeks.
Though the cause of this illness and its flare-ups are unknown, many people have more severe pain that aligns with certain weather events. Research confirms that the disease may be more active in some people during certain types of weather, but the impact can vary for each person and type of event.
Knowing whether factors such as hot or cold weather, wind, or humidity worsen your pain can help you prepare to manage the problem. It can also help you maintain control of your life by planning these events.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis flare-ups?
Symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis flare-ups include pain in the lower back, pelvis, and hips that is more intense than the level of discomfort that these problems typically present. During flare-ups, these symptoms may cause pain that is characterized as stabbing or cramp-like. Pain can occur in one more or be generalized to affect other joints in your body. Flare-ups exist for a limited amount of time, ranging from days to weeks.(Video) What is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis EXPLAINED
Learn More:Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis
What are the most common triggers of AS flares?
Because there are no cures for ankylosing spondylitis, treatments can only succeed in reducing symptoms, not providing a cure. When a patient stops taking medication, allows for too much time between doses, or the drug loses its efficacy, flare-ups are common. Other flare-ups are often attributed to random changes in disease activity or periods in which patients undergo emotional stress or overexert their physical abilities.
Learn More:Living Well With Ankylosing Spondylitis
How can you prevent ankylosing spondylitis flares?
There is no sure way to prevent ankylosing spondylitis flares, but you can work to reduce your risk of these events. The most important thing you can do is take your medication as directed daily to help keep existing symptoms and inflammation under control. Do your best to avoid stress and physical overexertion, which can worsen your current condition. Support your overall well-being by getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and practicing relaxation techniques.(Video) How I Cured My Ankylosing Spondylitis to Live Pain Free Again
Learn More:How to Prevent an Arthritis Flare
Does weather affect ankylosing spondylitis? ›
Patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) have reported that their pain becomes worse when the local weather changes.Does ankylosing spondylitis get worse in winter? ›
Seventy-three percent of the patients claimed that their symptoms are influenced by the weather. Forty-one patients suffer most before a change to cold and humid (25 pat.) or to humid weather (16 pat.). Forty patients feel the worst pain during cold and humid (26 pat.) or during humid (14 pat.) weather.Does ankylosing spondylitis get worse in summer? ›
How Does Weather Affect Others With Spondylitis? One study of 146 people with ankylosing spondylitis found that most people who reported weather-related changes in symptoms found warmer temperatures made their symptoms better and cold weather made them worse. “I can tolerate heat better than cold.What helps weather related joint pain? ›
- Keep warm. Be sure to cover your arms and legs during the cool weather. ...
- Be active. It goes without saying that muscles that move are stronger! ...
- Warm baths and hot compresses. ...
- Paraffin wax. ...
- Over-the-Counter medication (OTC)
Causes of AS Flares
In a study on AS flares, patients reported “the main perceived triggers of flare were stress and 'overdoing it,'” Dr. Appleyard says. “Keep in mind 'stress' may mean both physical stress, such as an illness, or emotional stress. Excess fatigue may also trigger a flare.”
Too Little Movement. When you aren't active enough, your spine, muscles, and joints can become stiffer. You also miss out on the flexibility, posture, pain-relief, and overall health benefits too. Aim to make movement part of your daily routine.