View Full Version : Rheumatic Stiffness/humidity

06-23-1998, 02:40 PM
I am posting below my original message and the replies.

I have not included that of Mark W Swanepoel
which was sent out to the whole list

These responses are certainly interesting and it would be good if
someone knows where to find the American mentioned by Neil Tuttle

I am adding these comments.

Perhaps predictably there has been no major breakthrough.

In the last 150 years science has revealed tremendous information about
magnetic, electric, gravitational fields etc and about atomic radiation
which were not dreamt of before.

Some alternative practitioners (quacks) also speak with great certainty
about forces and fields not known to science. This is surely usually
utter clap trap, and may be useful in impressing gullible, worried and
scientifically ignorant clientele.

However it would be arrogant to suppose that we now know all and that
perhaps there is an effect in this subject which, at present, defies
rational explanation.

It is apparent however than many of the subscribers to this list know a
lot about joints, there are experts on physiotherapy and perhaps also
rheumatology. This is why I am seeking to use this forum

In the U.K. it is commonplace for people who suffer from what loosely
may be called rheumatic conditions to be aware that in wet weather their
symptoms are worse. This is I think an almost universal observation.

But what is the cause of this ?

A medical scientist I greatly respected thought that because of the low
atmospheric pressure associated with rain that tiny bubbles formed in
the joint tissues. It was according to him like a minor attack of the
divers bends (caisson disease). This sounded at first plausible. However
aircraft cabins are not fully pressurised, and the change after take off
is more rapid than is usual with fluctuations of the weather. I have not
heard of people complaining about rheumatic pains on aircraft.

An alternative position is that with high humidity less water will be
lost from the lungs, and by insensible perspiration from the skin. There
will be some increase in the osmotic pressure of the blood. However
this would surely be quite small. I wonder if anyone knows of any data
about fluctuations of plasma osmotic pressure according to the weather ?

What else can be the cause ? Any suggestions ?

There is a literature about air ionisation. What I have found difficult
to follow and perhaps questionable because there seems to be no very
satisfactory way of getting measurements. Rain drops will, I suppose,
often have an electrical charge. So what ?

People find rainy weather in Northern Europe depressing. I am loathe
however to consider that the effects is purely psychological.

If the high humidity somehow is the cause, what happens in subtropical
and tropical countries in the wet season ? I have never been to Florida
but imagine that at certain times of the year it is hot and humid. Is
this a problem for people with joint problems ? Or is it only the
combination of wet and cold which is the trigger in temperate
climates.(even though most houses now have central heating

Finally if dampness is the main problem, whatever the mechanism, has
anyone tried using a dehumidifier in their house ?
Brad Wright

Excellent post. Please summarize any informative replies. I wouldn't be
surprised if, in fact, the "mini-bends" explanation turns out to be on
right track.

Brad Wright

Are you looking into Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which people
get due to lack of sunlight? This affects people in Northern Europe
winter days) and in the pacific NW of the US (grey, rainy days,
especially in
winter). I believe this is a sunlight thing - doctors prescribe high
lights as the treatment for the depression which can result.

Alternately, are you discussing people telling when it is going to rain
storm due to how their knees are feeling?

"Dr. Chris Kirtley (Kwok Kei Chi)"

No answers, I'm afraid, but full marks for asking the question!

Dr. Chris Kirtley MD PhD
Dept. of Rehabilitation Sciences
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hong Kong
Special Administrative Region of The People's Republic of China
suncg@medicine.snu.ac.kr (Sun G. Chung).

I do agree with you that the wet weather worsens the pain of the
patients. Some of the arthritic people in Korea can forecast the weather
more correctly than the weather news. As a physiatrist, I think the
why they suffer more pain by the wet weather may be somewhat explained
the effect of cold temperature which may decrease the viscosity of joint
fluid and extensibility of soft tissue. I wonder why the coldness of
may not affect the joint less than the coldness of the wet weather and
may be an evidence that is againt my idea. But for the coldness of the
winter, the patients may be acclimatized to the rather long durationed
change of temperature.

The key point of my reply is to read the summary of replies from you.


Sun G. Chung M.D. Ph.D.
"Neil Tuttle NHS"
Griffith University

As regards weather effects on symptoms there was an interesting
article I recall reading in 1972 or 73 (perhaps your search needs to
go back that far) using hospital rooms with airlocks controlling
multiple parameters. The conclusions as I recall was that it was
rapid change in at least two parameters (humidity, temperature,
barometric pressure, ?ion concentration, and ? rate of air exchange)
that resulted in the subgroup who were weather sensitive being
effected. I can't recall anything more about the reference except
that it was an American study (?University of Michigan) and it was

neil Tuttle
mantonel@wvu.edu (Mary Ann Antonelli MD)

Your question re: humidity and joint pain was forwarded to me; you
may have have many (?better) answers by now!
As a rheumatologist, I hear this complaint/observation so
frequently that it is undoubetedly a true phenomonen and not a
mis-attribution. The only related and oft-quoted (I don't know if I even
have the reference!) study suggested that joint and bone pain (like
fractures) symptoms are related to low atmospheric pressure, but could
be reproduced in a controlled atmospheric pressure chamber.
Predicting storms/low pressure systems is excellent by (some
my arthritis patients, but the mechanism may yet be unkown ! The
issue may be different from the "atmospheric pressure" phenomenon. I do
know that there is a thriving arthritis practice in the desert of
and that there were different type nor intensity of patient complaints
I practiced in Hawaii, where the humidity is high constantly. There were
little arthritis complaints in American Samoa (12 degree south of the
equator, continually 95% relative humidity) where I practiced for a
Is this a cool-with-high humidity phenomenon?

Mary Ann S. Antonelli MD FACP
Associate Professor of Medicine/Rheumatology
ICM Course Coordinator
West Virginia University School of Medicine
PO Box 9156 - RCB Health Sciences Center
Morgantown, WV 26506
304 293-2804; FAX 304 293-8824

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