Can Joints and Knees that Ache Really Predict a Change in the Weather?
Arthritis patients and joint pain sufferers have been claiming to be more reliable in predicting the weather than the local weather forecaster for ages.
You've heard it before as someone grabs hold of their knee exclaiming, "It's going to rain today. I can feel it!"
So should you trust aches and pains when planning your outdoor picnic, or is this just another old wives' tale with no real merit?
How It All Started
For centuries, people have wondered if weather has an impact on one's health.
As early as 2,400 years ago the Greeks were making note of the effect "hot and cold winds" have on pain and illness.
During the U.S. Civil War, physicians were writing about amputee soldiers sensing pain in their "phantom" limbs when the weather was changing.
So it's no surprise today that doctors are still pondering the connection between weather and pain. In fact, a lot of research has gone into trying to figure out exact scientific mechanisms that bring about this kind of weather-related pain.
According to Dr. William Shiel, MD in Orange County, CA, "Doctors who specialize in the treatment of patients with arthritis generally agree that many patients experience a worsening of joint symptoms with changes in the weather. Moreover, folklore holds that the weather can affect arthritis as emphasized by sayings like 'feeling under the weather.' We know, for example, that weather clearly influences many health conditions. Examples of this relationship include altitude and ears popping, pollens in the air and asthma or sinus infection, sun rays and skin burning or skin cancer, cold weather and heart attacks, and gloomy, dark weather and depression.'"
A VERY Definite Maybe
Many studies have explored the relationship between weather changes, like barometric pressure, temperature, humidity and joint pain.
The majority of researchers and doctors believe there IS a definite connection between changes in the barometric pressure and joint pain.
According to Dr. Hayes Wilson, MD, rheumatologist and chair of rheumatology at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, "The weather making joints hurt is more than just a myth. I see it in my patients who experience morning stiffness and have red, hot, swollen and painful joints when a front is approaching."
According to Kevin Robinson, a meteorologist with the Weather Channel in Atlanta, "When people feel pain during a weather change, it is often not precipitation or humidity causing the problem, but changing barometric pressure. As storms approach, barometric pressure - the weight exerted by air - falls, resulting in many people experiencing an increase in aches and pains. A decline in barometric pressure may make inflamed joints swell, which in theory could stretch the thin tissue lining the capsule surrounding a joint."
Furthermore, researchers under the direction of Dr. Noriko Likuni of the Institute of Rheumatology at Tokyo Women's Medical University studied 1,833 people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The doctors looked at the number of swollen, tender joints in the patients, and they measured inflammation by determining levels of C-reactive protein, high levels of which indicate acute inflammation, and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which measures chronic inflammation.
All results indicated that the patients experienced a significant increase in pain between fall and spring, when more storms occur, and a significant decrease in pain from spring to fall, when weather is typically calmer.
Surveys show that as many as 93% of arthritis sufferers believe that weather affects their pain level, and 68% believe that weather severely affects their pain level.
Is it Psychological?
While many patients and doctors believe that they experience more pain when a storm is drawing near, there are many variables to remember when researching such a topic.
Not all who suffer from chronic pain feel effects from the weather, and among those who do, reactions depend on the individual and can be hard to measure.
Some may blame their pain on the weather to help relieve the thinking that they have any control on the pain they might be experiencing. Attitudes like this may develop unconsciously, and the link between pain and weather would seem like a simple cause-and-effect relationship.
In addition, almost all of the scientific studies of weather and joint pain fail to rule out any psychological effects. Realistically, it's almost impossible to do. If a research subject believes that rain, for example, causes pain, then there is no way to expose that person to rain without him or her knowing it. And if the subject knows it's raining, that fact alone can trigger the psychological link with pain.
Check This Out
Whether or not you experience an increase in pain when the weather is taking a turn, you can use the following sources to help plan that special family outing.
AccuWeather.com has an online service called the "Arthritis Index." Here you will find a ranking of the potential severity of weather-related arthritis pain from low to extreme.
Weather.com offers a health section where frequent pain sufferers can go to find out the level of "aches and pains" that might be experienced in their area in their featured 'aches and pains' index.
Why do weather services provide such indexes? To help you plan activities - like your daily walks - and prepare to take better care of yourself when your pain may be increased.
You might not be able to change the weather, but you definitely can change how weather affects you.