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Weather and Spondylitis Symptoms

Posted on August 09, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Ryan Chiu, M.D.

Many people with spondylitis, also called spondyloarthritis, report changes in their symptoms when the weather changes. As one MySpondylitisTeam member shared, “When it goes from cold to hot or the other way, it just makes me hurt.”

Spondylitis is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammatory arthritis, primarily in the spine and the sacroiliac joints of the hips. This leads to chronic lower back pain, among other symptoms. Spondylitis can also target other joints, ligaments, and organ systems throughout the body. The most severe form of spondylitis is ankylosing spondylitis, which can cause some of the smaller bones of the spine to fuse.

Researchers aren’t sure why different weather patterns cause spondylitis-related joint pain and stiffness to flare up, but many MySpondylitisTeam members report seasonal changes in their symptoms. They also offer tips for easing discomfort during inevitable changes in weather.

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. My joints stiffen and pain increases with cold weather,” shared one MySpondylitisTeam member.

However, many other people living with spondylitis report that warmer weather can also be difficult for managing pain. As one member said, “Both cold and heat are enemies of mine, but cold is easier to fight. It’s easy to grab a blanket and warm up, but in the heat it's impossible to get cooled off.” Another said, “I also notice flares in weather swings.”

Humidity may also play a role. “I don’t find the cold as bad as the dampness, which we get a lot of,” said one member.

“The cold weather or rain kills me … My entire body aches and nothing helps,” said one member. Another shared, “Cold weather changes with rain are just miserable. It makes everything hurt worse everywhere, requiring nearly doubled meds to control it.”

Why Does Weather Affect Spondylitis?

Studies show that most people who have rheumatic diseases report that the severity of their symptoms depends at least partially on the weather. Rheumatic diseases refer to any autoimmune disease that attacks your joints, muscles, bones, and organs. In addition to spondylitis, rheumatic diseases include forms of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Why or how weather affects spondylitis symptoms is not very well understood, though researchers have theories. One explanation deals with the effect of barometric pressure (the pressure that we feel from the atmosphere above us). Differences in pressure have been linked to spondylitis symptoms and flare-ups. Cold air has greater density and can create pockets of higher pressure. Some researchers believe lower atmospheric pressure may cause extra swelling in the joint spaces and increase inflammatory arthritis pain.

Cold temperatures can sometimes cause blood vessels to spasm (narrow rapidly), especially for people with autoimmune conditions like spondylitis. This effect is called Raynaud’s phenomenon. The spasms decrease blood flow to musculoskeletal structures, which can lead to increased pain.

How To Cope With Weather-Related Pain and Stiffness

Treatment and pain management for people living with weather-related spondylitis symptoms is similar to treatment for spondylitis in general. Physical activity or exercise therapy has been shown to significantly improve the severity of spondylitis symptoms. Exercise can also help you feel warmer, which may help if cold sensations worsen your symptoms.

For pain, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), may help. Taking your prescribed medications, such as biologics, is also important for slowing the progression of spondylitis. Following your treatment plan with your health care provider can help keep pain and stiffness in check.

Some MySpondylitisTeam members have also shared their best advice for managing joint pain and stiffness related to weather:

  • “How I deal with the cold is using two blankets and a radiant heater in my room with the heat on.”
  • “I spend a lot of time using a heating pad and taking hot baths. I also use a lot of lidocaine on the joints affected.”
  • “Heat does not help my pain. I ice three to four times a day.”
  • “My heating pad and Biofreeze are my greatest friends.”
  • “My electric heated blanket is my best friend.”
  • “I have a heat pad that is extra long, which works really well for keeping my spine loose. I also wear a heavy shirt inside the house to keep my body warmer than normal.”
  • “At work, I keep a space heater next to my desk just to keep warm.”
  • “Tylenol helps a lot. I usually take it before bed, so I can sleep at night with some comfort. But all in all, my Humira is a lifesaver for me. Without it, I cannot move or walk or get around.”

If you think the weather is causing a flare-up or worsening of your symptoms, talk to your doctor about the treatment options and home remedies available to you.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. On MySpondylitisTeam, more than 67,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

Does weather affect your spondylitis symptoms? What has helped you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MySpondylitisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Ryan Chiu, M.D. obtained his medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 2021. Learn more about him here.

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