Chances are your own parents or grandparents swore that rain was coming if their joints became inflamed or started to ache, or perhaps you’ve even noticed that your own pain increasing when the weather is about to change.
But is it really possible for someone with arthritis to predict the weather? The ABC looked at this age-old and common question in a very interesting article, talking to nurse Jan Hughes – who has cared for patients with arthritis and now lives with the condition herself – asked her 79-year-old grandmother for advice on the topic. When Hughes questioned her friends who were also living with arthritis, it was unanimous they all thought the weather impacted their condition.
“The first thing they said was yes, of course the weather affects you! It was a very quick answer,” Hughes exclusively told the ABC. “No one said ‘no’. In fact, various ones said, ‘Oh my dad used to say that’ or ‘My mum used to say that there’s a change coming because all my arthritis spots are playing up’.”
That said, while people living with arthritis may be convinced that the weather impacts their symptoms, scientific research has shown more broadly that there’s no connection between the weather and aches and pains. Research by The George Institute for Global Health in 2017 found that the weather plays no part in the symptoms associated with either back pain or osteoarthritis.
“Our research suggests this belief may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their pre-existing views,” George Institute for Global Health professor Chris Maher said. “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.”
In the study of 1,350 people with lower back pain and knee osteoarthritis, researchers noted there was no link between back pain and temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction or rain, but did note higher temperatures could slightly increase the risk of lower back pain.
The research followed another study led by researchers at the Harvard Medical School and published in the British Medical Journal that found it was unlikely that rainy weather impacted achy joints. For the study, the research team compared the rates of joint or back pain-related visits on rainy days with non-rainy days and found no statistically significant link.
“We also found no relation between the proportion of claims for joint or back pain and the number of rainy days in the week of the outpatient visit,” researchers noted. “For example, joint or back pain rates during weeks with seven rainy days were similar to weeks with zero rainy days. There was also no statistically significant relation between the proportion of visits that involved joint or back pain in any given week and weekly rainfall … during that week or the proceeding week.”
The ABC’s lengthy piece on the issue, meanwhile, looked at a umber of other studies that found the same – there was no broad relationship between the weather and various types of arthritis, although high temperatures and low humidity could affect people with gout, which is another form of joint pain.
And as for Jan Hughes, she told the ABC her grandmother remained unconvinced. “My nana was undeterred when I told her the science was not necessarily backing her up,” Hughes said to the broadcaster. “She wanted to know if the scientists have ever had arthritis themselves.”