Can Achy Joints Really Predict the Weather?

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The idea that weather influences aches and pains have been around since ancient Greece and most of us probably have that one relative who swears that their knee always knows when there’s a storm-a-comin’.

But while studies show that a lot of people believe this is true, the actual evidence to back it up is mixed at best, and most of them reported that changes in the weather affected their pain. That’s only what the patients thought was happening, though. The researchers didn’t actually find a correlation.

A 2007 study looked at 200 people with knee pain from osteoarthritis, where the cartilage that cushions the bones is worn away and the data they collected over 3 months did suggest a link between some weather changes and reported pain.

People’s pain went up a smidge with increasing atmospheric pressure and decreasing temperature. This doesn’t quite fit the “my knee can predict rain” idea, though. Higher atmospheric pressure usually means nice weather on the way, not storms. This is because when atmospheric pressure is low, air molecules get pushed from nearby higher pressure regions into the low-pressure region. This makes wind and usually brings along ingredients for rain. When air pressure is high, though, things tend to stay nice and stable. That being said, changes in air pressure can affect our bodies.

For example, a difference in air pressure between the outside and those little hollow bits in your skull called sinuses can lead to a pretty bad headache. So there’s a chance that the nerve endings in the un-cushioned bones of osteoarthritis patients could respond to pressure changes and ache, too. But larger and more recent studies have had more negative results.

Like, a 1997 review of 16 studies on joint pain and weather couldn’t conclude anything for sure and one study from 2016 looked at 345 osteoarthritis patients in Australia for 3 months, who reported their pain online when it got worse. The researchers took temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, and precipitation data in the places where the patients lived both at the times that they reported pain, and when they didn’t as a control and, overall, they couldn’t find any connection between changes in the weather and people’s pain.

A similar study looking at lower back pain in 981 Australian participants couldn’t find any link to weather, either and they looked at factors like wind speed and direction, too. Now, some pain triggers, like stress and weight gain, are absolutely backed up by science. But weather, not so much. At least, as far as we know now.

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