Do you recount your parents or grandparents declaring that it was likely to rain because they could ‘feel it in their bones’? Or perhaps a flare-up of their arthritis or some other pain was their preferred weather forecasting method.
The claim that there is a link between rainy weather and achy joints is both common and far from new – but is there any truth to it?
According to research published by the BMJ, the answer is: most likely not.
While other smaller studies have investigated claims about the correlation between the weather and joint pain, their small sample sizes and the use of surveys where people self-report their symptoms, have not typically produced conclusive results.
Anupam Jena, a physician from Harvard Medical School, lead a team of US researchers on a huge research project that delved into this curious topic, using ‘big data’.
The researchers linked Medicare insurance claims to rainfall data from thousands of weather stations in the country. They were able to analyse over 1.5 million patients aged 65 years or older, who had more than 11.6 million joint or back pain-related outpatient visits over four years between 2008 and 2012.
The team compared the rates of joint or back pain related visits on rainy days versus 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. For example, joint or back pain rates during weeks with seven rainy days were similar to weeks with zero rainy days,” the research paper noted.
“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 preceding week.”
The research paper noted that there were limitations in this study’s methodology, which may leave the door open for future studies.
“Most importantly, we lacked detail on disease severity to definitively exclude higher rates of joint or back pain related to rainfall,” the paper stated.
The researchers said they also lacked information on the use of over-the-counter analgesics, which allowed patients to self-manage their symptoms, and therefore be undetectable in the survey data.
And finally, the report said, “We focused on older patients and studied rainfall specifically, rather than other weather conditions such as humidity, barometric pressure, or temperature.”
While this survey found no correlation between rainfall and outpatient visits for joint or back pain related problems, “an association may still exist, and larger, more detailed data on disease severity and pain would be useful to support the validity of this commonly held belief,” the report concluded.