Every time the weather turns grey and chilly, people start complaining about achy backs, knees, and elbows. Some people even believe that their achy joints can be a prediction of weather for the next couple of days. A few Australian researchers decided to examine this phenomenon. They ended up concluding that bad weather did not cause back pain, but it did make people more likely to notice it.
Scientists Find No Association Between Bad Weather and Joint or Back Pain
A lot of scientific research relies on examining folklore about health issues to see if they are supported by scientific evidence. Two separate studies in Australia have focused on the common myth that cold weather or rain makes joint pain worse. People have believed this for years, and many suggest that the change in air pressure or humidity may cause inflammation to rise.
In one study, researchers at the George Institute compared the data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology with the data of 1,350 study patients who had back or knee pain. The researchers took note of the days when patients first felt pain, and then compared it to the weather data for the same time period. Even when weather for a month surrounding the pain onset was examined, the researchers could not find any correlation between cold weather or rain and pain.
The researchers were surprised at the amount of backlash their study received. They were overwhelmed with messages and calls from people who insisted that their joints hurt much worse when the weather was bad. Since there is always some room for error, the scientists decided to conduct the same study again with different data.
In the second study, researchers examined patients with osteoarthritis-related joint pain. Unlike pain caused by random injuries, osteoarthritis causes pain because the protective coating in joints is worn down. The results of this study were basically the same, and there seemed to be no connection between an increase in pain and weather.
The scientists ended up concluding that the link between joint pain and weather was more psychological than physical. As many previous studies have shown, bad weather tends to worsen people’s moods. When patients are in a bad mood, they may notice pain more and believe that it is caused by bad weather.
The authors believe that the association between joint pain and bad weather is also a result of a confirmation bias. People believe that bad weather causes pain, so they notice the pain more on bad weather days. On days with good weather, patients do not even think to associate their pain with weather.
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. Human beings are very susceptible so it’s easy to see why we might only take note of pain on the days when it’s cold and rainy outside, but discount the days when they have symptoms but the weather is mild and sunny.
Having Pain Free Joints in all Types of Weather
The researchers found that patients tended to feel pain more intensely due to the decline in their moods, but there are ways to combat this issue. You can get an artificial sun lamp to get the mood boosting benefits of sunshine indoors. Staying at a healthy weight, maintaining good posture, and regularly exercising can also help to relieve mild joint pain, but those who tend to feel sharp pain will benefit from a visit to a doctor.
Photo by Lorenzo Benetton alias apolide, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.