“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” — Mark Twain
It’s true. Most summer days in San Francisco begin with low-hanging gray fog and cold moisture in the air. With some luck, the fog will burn off and the temperature will warm up a few degrees.
Like many people diagnosed with RA, I’ve become acutely aware of the weather. Certain weather can affect my joints and, as a consequence, my pain. I’ve encountered lots of RA testimonials about the negative effects of cold and wet weather on joints. I’ve also come across lots of scientific research that is inconclusive on the impact weather has on RA.
I am no scientist, but I have observed how weather affects my RA. Here are some insights I’ve learned as I’ve taken my body in and out of different climates.
What to do when you’re in cold, damp weather
I grew up in San Francisco, where we played soccer on fields so foggy you could hardly see the goal you were dribbling toward. It was Campbell’s Soup commercial weather.
In my eight years with RA, I’ve noticed this kind of weather does not necessarily cause flare-ups. That is to say, I don’t feel that the damp and chilly fog makes my joints slow and unpliable. But I do think this weather can worsen, or amplify, existing flare-ups.
In cold, damp weather, I suggest eating warm foods: soups, teas, hot oatmeal, etc. Sometimes, the mere act of placing your hands on a hot bowl is revitalizing. Also, try to exercise when you wake up rather than later in the day. I’ve learned that working up a bit of a sweat and getting the blood pumping early gives a warm jumpstart to your joints that can last through the day.
What to do when the weather’s humid
I played college baseball in Hawaii. As a pitcher, I found there to be no better climate for the arm. The warmth and humidity seemed to cloak my arm and keep all the tiny ligaments and tendons elastic and content — the humidity also weighed down the ball, which meant fewer homeruns!
Now with RA, I find humidity can be an enemy. I’ve noticed that cloak of warm, hot air directly worsens RA symptoms. My fingers feel like they balloon up, unable to form a fist when they could the day before. My elbow suddenly feels so constricted and strangled that it won’t bend to brush my teeth. These changes are sudden and, for the most part, consistent with the weather.
Again, try to exercise early in the day before the blaring sun compounds the stifling humidity. Often there is a pool, or lake, or river nearby in humid climates. These are great places to cool off and get some mobility exercise for the body.
What to do in dry heat
I once spent a month traveling in Europe, primarily in Italy and France. This was the longest trip I’d taken in recent memory, so I decided to utilize the travel pack provided by my biologic medication so I did not have to disrupt my medication schedule.
Our first stop was Paris. I had so much fun that when we took the train to our next destination, I realized I had left my meds in the fridge in Paris. It meant I would be without RA meds for a month.
The weather in Italy was consistently in the 90s or 100s, and dry. Along with getting up early and walking for miles a day, the hot, dry weather seemed to keep my joints pain-free and my disease at bay. I forgot about medication and, at times, was able to forget about RA.
Don’t take my word about weather; try everything for yourself. If you don’t live in dry heat, try to spend some time in it and observe any changes in your body. If you don’t live in humid weather, venture to a tropical destination, relax, and take notes. I don’t claim that weather can change your disease in any significant way, and sometimes we may perceive weather to be the cause behind a change when it is not. Everyone is different, and so our experience with RA is different. But I always think it’s worth a shot to try new things.
Consult with your rheumatologist before making any significant decisions, and go find out for yourself how weather effects your RA.
See more helpful articles:
Emil DeAndreis is a baseball coach, and an English professor at College of San Mateo. His memoir, Hard To Grip, chronicles his journey of losing a professional baseball career to rheumatoid arthritis. He lives in San Francisco with his wife. Follow along with Emil on Twitter.