Often, we hear our patients predict the weather based on how they’re feeling or report increased pain when the weather changes. For years, people have said things like “I feel a storm coming in” or “my knees are telling me it’s going to rain.” Is there scientific evidence to support these feelings?
The short answer is, kind of. In 2007, Tufts University conducted a study looking at this topic. Overall, the found that for every ten degrees the temperature dropped, individuals reported an incremental increase in pain. They also discovered that low barometric pressure, low temperatures and precipitation caused a subjective increase in pain.
Two thirds of people living with chronic pain report direct correlations between their pain and the weather. The most commonly identified culprit is damp, rainy weather. One theory is that it’s not so much the precipitation or the temperature that affects us, as it is the barometric pressure. Barometric pressure (also known as atmospheric pressure) is defined as the pressure exerted by the weight of the atmosphere. Prior to bad weather, barometric pressure drops. Lower pressure pushes against the body less, giving tissue the ability to expand. This can cause added pressure on a joint. Although the change is small, many soft tissues are loaded with nerve endings, which are quite sensitive. This allows us to feel painful changes with slight alterations in pressure. That’s one theory.
Another theory is that cold weather causes increased pain. Although not scientifically proven, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this claim. Some researchers theorize that cold weather causes soft tissue to shrink, pulling on nerves which can cause pain. Cold weather can lead to increased joint stiffness (worse in patients with arthritis), and this is often perpetuated by a sedentary lifestyle that increases the risk for stiff joints. We all tend to feel better when the sun is shining; we’re outside and moving more. We don’t need science to tell us that.
If you head over to http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/tools-resources/weather you’ll find a neat tool that claims to predict your joint pain based on your zip code. Understand that this is no way diagnostic in nature, nor does it replace any medical care or advice.
If you’re feeling like the weather is negatively impacting your quality of life, schedule a consult with one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy. Together, we can come up with a plan to keep you moving throughout the year!