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What Causes Arthritis Symptoms? Five Triggers To Know

If you’re one of nearly 50 million Americans with arthritis, you know just how debilitating the symptoms - pain, swelling and stiffness – can be. But here’s the good news: knowledge is power when it comes to managing your arthritis symptoms. By understanding the five most common triggers that cause flare-ups, you can make proactive lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency and severity of arthritis flares.
If you’re one of nearly 50 million Americans with arthritis, you know just how debilitating the symptoms - pain, swelling and stiffness – can be. But here’s the good news: knowledge is power when it comes to managing your arthritis symptoms. By understanding the five most common triggers that cause flare-ups, you can make proactive lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency and severity of arthritis flares.

Arthritis Symptoms and Your Environment (Not Just Weather, but Also Weather)

What is arthritis and what are arthritis symptoms?

Arthritis is a chronic disease that causes arthritis symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. It affects millions of people worldwide, and many of them report that their symptoms are affected by environmental changes.

As someone who has lived with arthritis, I know firsthand how frustrating and debilitating this condition can be. One of the most challenging aspects of managing arthritis is dealing with the unpredictable nature of the symptoms

arthritis symptoms like joint pain

Some days, I wake up feeling pain-free, while others, even simple tasks like getting dressed are challenging. Over time, I have noticed that changes in the environment around me can significantly impact my arthritis symptoms. Let’s explore the effects of the environment on arthritis in more detail.

Whether you are living with arthritis or know someone who is, this post will provide some helpful insights and tips for managing this condition.

Which environmental factors impact arthritis symptoms?

1) Smoking

More than the weather can impact the presence and severity of your arthritis symptoms. Did you know that smoking tobacco can make your arthritis even worse?

Studies indicate that smoking reduces blood supply to the bones, just like it does to many other body areas. Smoking also decreases the absorption of calcium from your diet. Calcium is necessary for mineralization; fewer bone minerals mean more fragile bones. Think your osteoarthritis hurts now? Just wait until your finger breaks due to osteoporosis on top of it.

To pile on to the reasons smoking is impacting your arthritis symptoms, a study of 1300+ people with psoriatic arthritis using a TNF inhibitor found that smokers how lower response rates to the medication. Another study found smokers tend to need medicinal therapy sooner in the disease process for rheumatic arthritis.

Heck, even smoke inhalation (second-hand or from nearby fires) causes issues with oxygen supply throughout your body! Basically, it’s your arthritis pain’s ‘smoking gun.’ Maybe it is time to quit!

2) Stress, physical and emotional

When your body experiences stress, it triggers the release of chemicals that prepare you to face the challenge at hand. This results in a quickened breathing rate, increased heart rate, and tensed muscles in anticipation. While this reaction is beneficial in the short term, if it occurs repeatedly, the heightened muscle tension can intensify the pain associated with arthritis.

Physical and emotional stress really come and go hand-in-hand. Emotional stress triggers a physical response, like an inflammatory response in your immune system. The last thing you want to do when you have arthritis is increase your inflammation. Your suffering is more than enough without it!

When you’re suffering from an arthritis flare-up, lowering your stress will be even more challenging. It’s essential to talk out the stressors, say no to things that would increase your pain, and make relaxation a part of your life.  

3) Diet

We already know watching your weight and ensuring you’re not adding extra strain to your body will help manage the impact of arthritis. In fact, research has found that losing just one pound of body weight reduces the load on knees by four pounds. That would certainly affect your arthritis symptoms!

Chronic inflammation could also be caused by something in your dietSaturated and trans fats are found to increase inflammation, so reducing those would, in turn, reduce the inflammation leading to pain and joint degradation.

Vitamin D could help you stave off the progression of arthritis and its symptoms! Several research studies have established a correlation between low vitamin D levels in the blood and a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, other research has revealed that individuals with low vitamin D in their diets experience a three-fold increase in the rate of osteoarthritis progression compared to those with good vitamin D levels.

Vitamin D is primarily found in a limited number of foods, such as oily fish, fortified milk, and orange juice. As a result, most people need to supplement their Vitamin D intake. 

Slap on some sunscreen and take ten in the sun to kickstart your vitamin D dosage!

4) Exercise

Exercise can help reduce your weight, but the old adage “you can’t outrun a bad diet” still comes into play here. So don’t ignore the advice above about watching your dietary intake to reduce the impact of arthritis on your life! 

However, there are more benefits than a slim waistline from exercise, especially for those of us with arthritis. Exercise can help strengthen muscles around joints, maintain bone strength, increase your energy, make it easier to sleep well, and improve your balance and overall mood.

Arthritis-friendly exercises include range-of-motion activity, strengthening exercises, aerobic exercise, and even just a nice walk. Keep the impact low, move gently, go slowly, and if you feel too much pain, then go ahead and ice after your activity for up to 20 minutes to reduce joint swelling.

You really don’t need to overdo this. Still, your level of exercise and environment definitely has a measurable effect on your arthritis, so stay mindful!

5) Weather, yes we saw this one from miles away on a clear day

There are several ways that weather can affect arthritis. One of the most common is changes in barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure drops, it can cause the tissues in your joints to expand, leading to pain and discomfort. Humidity can also play a role in arthritis symptoms. High humidity can cause your joints to swell, while low humidity can cause them to dry out and become stiff.

Temperature can also affect arthritis symptoms. Many people with arthritis report that their pain is worse in cold weather. More pain may be because the cold can cause your muscles to tense up, leading to more pain and stiffness. On the other hand, some people with arthritis find that their symptoms are worse in hot weather, as the heat can cause inflammation and swelling.

Even wind speed has been found to increase painful symptoms of arthritis. 

With all these factors at play, keeping a symptom diary with environmental data would benefit you and your loved ones in managing arthritis.

Managing Arthritis Symptoms in Different Weather Conditions

If you have arthritis, there are several things you can do to manage your symptoms in different weather conditions. Here are some tips:

  • In cold weather, dress warmly and stay indoors as much as possible. Use heating pads or warm compresses to ease joint pain.
  • In hot weather, stay cool and hydrated. Use fans or air conditioning to keep your home cool. Wear loose, breathable clothing and avoid being outside during the hottest parts of the day.
  • When the barometric pressure drops, stay active and keep your joints moving. Gentle exercises like yoga or swimming can help ease joint pain and stiffness.
  • Keep track of the weather and how it affects your symptoms. Staying current on the weather can help you anticipate when you need to take extra steps to manage your arthritis.

Luckily our Best Life app combines a symptom log and all your location-based environmental data, including barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, and wind speed. Try it free today!


Arthritis can be a challenging chronic disease to manage. Understanding how your environment affects your symptoms can help you. You have the power to achieve a healthier, happier life. Perhaps some of these environmental factors impact your arthritis symptoms more than others. There is no one-size-fits-all for this. 

Luckily, it’s never been easier with today’s technology to help you plan in advance, monitor your diet, keep track of symptoms and medications, and draw your own unbiased conclusions from your data.


Smoking and Arthritis

Smoking and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Five Reasons Smoking Makes Arthritis Worse

How Stress Affects Arthritis

Can Diet Improve Arthritis Symptoms?

Exercise Helps Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness

Can The Weather Really Worsen Arthritis Pain?

Who we are

The Live Learn Innovate Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity that empowers software users to regain control of their personally generated health data, gain intuitive insights about their social data, learn the impact of their environment on health, and build a foundation of data analytics that empowers research, academics, and innovation in economic development.

Use cases for this secure, private data aggregation method appear everywhere, expanding to family care, community growth, agricultural planning, and many more things still unseen. Help us keep going by getting involved today.

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