If a storm is coming, can you feel it in your bones? It’s common for people to blame an increase in joint pain on changes in the weather, but it turns out there’s likely no validity to the claims. New research shows that the weather plays no part in symptoms associated with either osteoarthritis or back pain–no matter how rainy, humid, or cold it is outside.
Your grandmother may have sworn that her knee flared up every time it was about to rain, but the idea that weather can cause bone pain goes back much further than that. Professor Chris Maher, of The George Institute for Global Health, said: “The belief that pain and inclement weather are linked dates back to Roman times. But our research suggests this belief may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their pre-existing views.”
Older theories hold that patients experience an increase in pain when the barometric pressure drops. The idea is that when pressure is lower, tissues can expand and press against joints–the same reason some people experience swelling while on an airplane. And indeed, surveys have repeatedly shown that patients report feeling increased pain when the temperatures drop and humidity rises.
As it turns out, it’s likely all in your head. Study authors suggest that the problem is simply that people pay more attention to their pain on rainy days because they’re already in a depressed mood.
What Does Research Show?
In the first, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 people dealing with lower back pain and 350 diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis and reports of pain were compared to corresponding weather logs provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Data was gathered from the date of onset, as well as the week and month prior.
In the second, scientists looked at the medical records of 11,673,392 Medicare outpatient visits. Matching the dates of the visits to local weather reports, they found that only 2,095,761 of them occurred on rainy days.
Much to the chagrin of old wives everywhere, neither study showed a relationship between patients’ physical pain and weather conditions. In the case of the former, outrage over the findings was so great that researchers ran a second study, replicating the results, just to be safe.
Proper Pain Management Is Key
The researchers’ findings don’t mean that you can’t actually feel pain on a rainy day, of course. They just mean that the weather itself isn’t causing your pain. Scientists suggest that instead of focusing on what’s going on outside, patients should work on identifying other triggers, as well as better ways to prevent and manage their pain.
When it comes to joint discomfort, the best thing anyone can do (regardless of weather) is to stay active. Activities such as warm water therapy, stretching, yoga, and walking may help. In addition, joint pain sufferers should talk to their doctors to see if an anti-inflammatory drug might provide relief.