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What’s the Connection Between the Weather and Pain Levels?

02 Nov

When it’s about to rain, can you feel it in your joints? Or when the temperature starts to plummet, do your pain levels start to rise? Read on to discover the truth behind the theory.

Scientific Studies

People with various chronic pain conditions, including arthritis, back pain and migraines, often report that the weather has the ability to change their pain levels. But so far scientific studies haven’t found a definitive correlation between weather and pain.

A study released this year in the journal Rheumatology International concluded, “Contrary to common belief … precipitation, temperature, relative humidity, and air pressure did not influence the intensity of pain reported by patients during an episode of low back pain.”[1] And a review of nine studies on the subject found no “consistent group effect of weather conditions on pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis.”[2]

But just because studies haven’t found a definitive connection doesn’t mean that the weather has no impact on pain. Additional studies have found that there may be more to the matter than simply “weather doesn’t affect pain” or “weather does affect pain.” It may be the case that there are two groups of people – those who are weather-sensitive and those who aren’t.[2][3] The aforementioned review of nine studies went on to say that there is “evidence suggesting that pain in some individuals is more affected by the weather than in others, and that patients react in different ways to the weather.”[2] This may be especially true for women and those who are prone to anxiety.[3]

So while all chronic pain sufferers may not experience pain due to weather changes, it seems that a distinct subgroup does.

Possible Causes

Since science disagrees on whether the connection even exists, there’s little concrete data on why pain may be affected by the weather, but there are several theories. The main one revolves around the idea of barometric pressure.

Barometric pressure, also called atmospheric or air pressure, refers to the weight of the air in Earth’s atmosphere. Since it changes based on the weather (lower pressure usually indicates oncoming cloudy or stormy conditions), barometric pressure is a key measurement used by meteorologists in their forecasts. The theory goes that decreased pressure in the air means increased pressure on the joints. This may be because there’s less atmospheric pressure holding the tissue back, causing it to swell more than usual and thus irritate the nerves.[4] Cold weather may also affect tissue, causing it to shrink and pull painfully on the nerves.

There may also be an underlying psychological aspect to the connection. It’s well-known that weather has the ability to change a person’s mood and mood, in turn, can help or hurt an individual’s ability to cope with pain.

The weather also affects our activity levels, which play a big part in the experience of pain. As physical therapists often say, motion is lotion. Staying active keeps our joints lubricated and our muscles loose. But inclement weather keeps us indoors, preventing many people from getting the exercise they need. This may also lead to weight gain, putting even more pressure onto the joints and causing increased pain levels.

Pain Relief Tips

There are a few simple things you can do to help offset the increased pain due to weather. Keeping active despite the cold or rain can make a big difference. While the weather may keep you from walking outdoors or riding your bike, consider adopting an indoor workout program, which could include swimming, track walking or an indoor sports league. Exercise won’t just help with pain and weight, but it will also help boost your endorphin levels, putting you in a better mood and making it easier to cope with pain.

Staying warm also plays a part in staving off cold-related pain. Dress in layers and keep your home well-heated to keep your body from getting too cold. For symptomatic relief, consider utilizing a heating pad or taking a dip in a heated pool or bath.

Of course if your pain condition doesn’t improve, or you’re interested in more long-term solutions to your pain, it’s advisable to see a pain specialist, who can provide a variety of minimally invasive treatment options to help you weather the storm.

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[1] Duong, Vicky, Chris G. Maher, Daniel Steffens, Qiang Li, and Mark J. Hancock. “Does weather affect daily pain intensity levels in patients with acute low back pain? A prospective cohort study.” Rheumatology International 26, no. 5 (May 2016): 679-684.

[2] Smedslund, Geir, and Kåre Birger Hagen. “Does rain really cause pain? A systematic review of the associations between weather factors and severity of pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis.” European Journal of Pain 15, no. 1 (January 2011):5-10.

[3] Timmermans, Erik J., Suzan Van Der Pas, Laura A. Schaap, Mercedes Sánchez-Martínez, Sabina Zambon, Richard Peter, Nancy L. Pedersen, Elaine M. Dennison, Michael Denkinger, Maria Victoria Castell, Paola Siviero, Florian Herbolsheimer, Mark H. Edwards, Ángel Otero, and Dorly Jh Deeg. "Self-perceived Weather Sensitivity and Joint Pain in Older People with Osteoarthritis in Six European Countries: Results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA)." BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 15, no. 66 (March 5, 2014).

[4] “Fact or Myth: Weather Affects Arthritic Joint Pain,” University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Accessed September 2, 2016. http://specialtyclinics.med.sc.edu/joint_pain.asp

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 November 2017 08:23

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