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The Effects of Altitude on Chronic Arthritis

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Could the altitude be making your joints hurt?

Could the altitude be making your joints hurt?

Chronic Arthritis

Those of us who live with chronic arthritis understand the pain and difficulty it can create in our lives. Over the years I have searched for hidden answers in the hope of finding a miracle cure to ease the aches in my body. Some modern medications are expensive even with insurance, and in some countries access to those medications is nil. I have never found a complete answer.

After retiring I moved to Mexico—to one of the sunniest and most peaceful environments I could find. It enabled me to reduce my medications by half. The sun and the heat have provided comfort that finally made me believe that location could very well be the start to solving my problems.

Arthritis affects the joints.

Arthritis affects the joints.

Climate and Joint Pain

Long ago I started looking into how the climate can affect joint pain. Some people may or may not be as sensitive to incoming weather, but there is some curiosity there. I myself feel nothing in a rain storm, but in a more permanent environment have had vast improvements. So why is it people are sensitive to short-term weather effects? This led me to investigate barometric pressure. Low-pressure gradients mix with high-pressure gradients and things change quickly allowing some to feel the effects before the first drop of rain falls. This further pushed me to consider other areas of the globe with high or low barometric pressure.

What About Altitude?

The natural progression for me to explore next seemed to be at locations at high altitudes. I could find almost nothing. If you search yourself you will find the occasional forum with a few responses here or there but there is only one scientific article I could find and it is more than 30 years old, and, get this: it's in our favor.

The study, Effects of high altitude stay on the incidence of common diseases in man, was published in June of 1977 and is the only such study I can find that brushes up on the effects of altitude on arthritis. Surprisingly I could find nothing else! The most amazing part of the study is that in higher altitudes many diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, showed that cases were "significantly lower." So there is indeed a chance that living at a higher altitude may help your arthritis.

Look Up!

Searching for alternative methods to treat chronic arthritis will bring you a lot of results to sort through. It is a shame that there are so few studies on obvious candidates that are likely to improve living with arthritis. Living at high altitudes may give you the peace you have been looking for. So the next time you consider moving, consider looking up.

Please comment below and share your story of living with arthritis at high altitudes. Also, share any research you have found. It may help someone!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Deedy on September 04, 2019:

I live in Utah and have RA but have been able to be basically pain free with a supplement I found on line however I go to North Carolina a couple times a year and even after a couple of days my Rheumatoid Arthritis get pretty bad and the swelling is quite uncomfortable. Upon returning home to Utah the swelling goes away as does the pain and after a couple of days I am back to normal. This caused me to research this to see if anyone else had the same experience so... My opinion is that "YES" it most definitely has an effect on me and maybe others are effected as well.

Becky on March 17, 2019:

My sister and I have back pain except when we go skiing in Colorado. We live in Oklahoma. This happens every time we ski. From what I read below it does sound like it's pressure change that is the miracle worker .

I am curious to see if pain relief last with an extended visit or if the body will adjust to pressure change and pain will return

Tony on March 15, 2019:

Living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I am at a point where I have to take NSAIDs to survive.

Made a (bucket list) trip out west (Wyoming, Utha, Colorado) and all my pains were gone. Returned home, and it took awhile, but gradually got worse. Now I am in worse shape than when I left.

I will be going on that same route again, later this year to see if the same result occurs.

From the research I have seen so far, it is the "change" in pressure that has an effect. Not sure yet for how long you have to be in that changed environment before it returns, if at all.

My plans so far. is that if this trip does in fact clear my pain, I will be looking at how to move to a new area (job wise).

Thank you all for your comments, it has helped confirm my suspicions, and not feel like I am going crazy.

Mont H on February 25, 2019:

I have PA and live in SLC, UT at 4800 feet. I've noticed that when I fly, I feel like I've been hit by a train the next day. If it's to a coastal city, I feel great for the duration of the trip.

I've read many comments here and I see polarized opinions but I think that altitude is a definite factor. It seems to me that it depends if swelling tissue can be helpful or painful. For me, I could use a hyperbaric chamber to reduce swelling and thus, pain.

Pam on June 27, 2018:

I just visited my son in the mountains of North Carolina

For the last 9 months, I live in Florida, I have been in constant pain

and have done physical therapy. Every day is a new pain or issue. I

Don't want to live on aleve everyday. I had a steroid injection in one knee.

I drove for 10 hours to get up to the mountains. I was expecting to be crippled

on arrival, but no. I went up and down 20 stairs several times daily with little difficulty. My hands were able to close tight, first time in long time. Stayed for 3 days and felt great even after long drive back. Lasted about 1 1/2 days. Now the inflammation is back and I am walking with a limp. I think the elevation has something to do with this, my knees were not inflamed and I did not need pain meds. I am going to make another visit and check it out. If I feel better I may have to consider moving

Nancy on April 07, 2018:

I agree with Gwen. I have been in CO (Western Slope) since last November and never has my RA been so bad. I follow an autoimmune diet and have even fasted several days with no relief from this inflammation. It's beautiful here but I can't wsit to get back to the midwest!

Rene S. on March 26, 2018:

I have been living for 20 years with chronic pain from severe injuries to my cervical spine. I've tried acupuncture, electrical stimulation, biofeedback, several different types of physical therapy, chiropractor, spinal surgery with fusion of three neck joints, therapeutic massage, trigger point injections, steroid packs and steroid injections into the facet joints, Nsaids, non-narcotics, lots of ice packs, and narcotic pain pills. The latter cut the edge off the pain but do not stop it. Beach vacations make my pain way worse as do sudden changes in barometric pressure with incoming rain storms, cold fronts and hurricanes. High elevations are the ONLY thing that give me near total pain relief. I just retested this theory with a trip to Santa Fe, NM, and my shoulder and complete upper back pain evaporated to about level one on the pain scale. It had recently risen to 9 in Texas for about six weeks, so high that it wiped out the pain from major hip surgery. Yes, I'm going to retire in Santa Fe and hope the high elevation keeps my pain at bay longterm.

valdezgi on November 30, 2017:

According to the vote a little more than 50% say no. This is the case with me. I live in New Mexico, latitutude between 5300 and 7300 and I am in constant chronic pain. I just came back from New Orleans and I felt great, I walked all over for several days and couldn't believe how well I felt. The minute I walked off the plane I could barely walk.

Conniekari on October 30, 2017:

Is true.we drove to south lake Tahoe take a four days vacation,I wake up the next morning with no joint pain,no stiffines it was a miracle for me first time since diagnosis I don't have to take any pain meds I was living in heaven for four days than we came back to San jose and all the pain is back again.I am back to the meds.So because of that we take the decision to move up there next year and I can't wait.

Miles Long on October 09, 2017:

I have degeneration in a spot on left wrist, arthritis too. Right knee pain from menicus tear (then corrective surgery ) 24 years ago, back pain. 60 y/o male.

Went to Denver, CO for four days. I normally live at sea level in a coastal resort area.

Pain symptoms gone after two days in Denver.

On flight home back to California noticed within 2 hours all pain back.

Jack S on October 01, 2017:

I currently live at 5200 ft and find that I get great relief at sea level. The higher the altitude the greater my swelling and pain.

Gwen Rhodes on August 14, 2017:

We used to live in Costa Rica. My rheumatoid arthritis was fine..very occasionally it would flare. We moved to 9000 ft above sea level in Colorado and I am in pain all the time. I recently flew to Tucson...for three days. Totally pain free. Is it the altitude? I don't know but someone said I should check into it.

Sharon Lankford on August 04, 2017:

We live 8 months in Oklahoma. I have spinal stenosis in my neck which causes terrible pain in my left shoulder blade but when we move to Colorado at 9500' for 4 months during the summer, it goes away almost completely. Is there an explanation for this?

a on July 16, 2017:

i have been suffering with severe pain for 2 yrs and was just diogosed with fibromyalgia. i hurt all the time all over! went to NM for a week and noticed right a way that i had almost not pain while there. returned to texas and over night i was back to my pain!:(

Jan on July 15, 2017:

My husband has severe pain, especially when it rains or is humid at lower altitude levels of both Cottonwood, Arizona and Los Angeles, California. However, when we visit Flagstaff, Arizona at elevation of 7,000 ft, he feels very little pain, even in rain, snow, or humidity. Yes, I really wish someone would do more studies!!!

Kathy on July 08, 2017:

I have noticed on 3 different occasions to higher altitude areas - above 7,000 ft I find that within days I no longer ache nearly as much. Upon returning to a lower altitude I begin to ache almost immediately. I wish there were more studies on this effect.

Chris on April 25, 2017:

I live at over 6,700' elevation. I have had 2 back surgeries and may need another. Last year I did a computer search on the effects of altitude on back pain. The higher elevation, the lower the atmospheric pressure. Thus, your tissues expand. I currently take a pain pill a day just to function each day. After reading these articles, I stopped taking my medication anytime we were going "down the hill" for a few days. No pain. Last year we went to Florida for a month and I didn't have to take a single pain pill. I am convinced that I can live a better life at a lower elevation. We are moving.

Mary Reinsmoen on April 06, 2017:

I stayed for 6 weeks in the mountains of central Mexico in San Miguel de allende. Altitude was 6400 ft. Virtually no osteo arthritis pain. Went back to Texas in the rio grand valley at sea level where I usually spend 6 winter months, and it returned. (I also spent 3 weeks on the beach on west coast of Mexico and had usual pain. )

First noticed it last year in San Miguel. Next year I will spend 2 1/2 months in Mexico between San Miguel and a town (Ajijic) 1000 ft less to see the difference.

Gina Stanley on March 22, 2017:

I have chronic pain in my left hip. An injection didn't help. We took a trip to New Mexico for skiing. I had NO pain the four days we were there. It returned the day after we got back home to Oklahoma.