Do you remember your grandparents ever telling you that it was about to rain, not because the weather report, but because they felt the coming rain in their bones? Feeling a change in the weather through pain in your joints is an old wives’ tale held onto so strongly that scientists have been compelled to investigate the phenomena. And it turns out, time and again, that there is a correlation between osteoarthritis and inclement weather. While correlation is not the same as conclusive proof, it does seem there really is some truth to this story passed-down through the ages.
Scientific studies of weather and osteoarthritis
There are numerous international studies that continue to be carried out on the topic of weather and osteoarthritis. Below are but three of them.
A study conducted in Ireland, a country famous for its cloud cover and high levels of rain, followed 53 patients with end-stage osteoarthritis of the hip and compared their pain severity against precipitation, atmospheric pressure and temperature. They concluded that changes in atmospheric pressure contributed to osteoarthritic pain in the participants on a daily basis.
Another study in 2014 examined older people with osteoarthritis is six european countries. Just as the old wives tale predicted, pain severity increased with bad weather. This study had some additional, interesting findings too. They learned that the correlation between weather and pain severity was stronger for women more that men, and with Southern Europeans more than Northern Europeans as well as those who reported higher anxiety.
Closer to home, Perth’s Curtin University undertook another similar study only last year arriving at the same conclusion. They had the idea of testing subjects pain threshold then comparing their sensitivity to cold and heat. As expected, in areas of the body suffering osteoarthritis, pain sensitivity is higher, which may be contributing to being able to sense changes to the weather.
Atmospheric Pressure and OsteoArthritis
When atmospheric pressure (also known as barometric pressure) drops, pain increases in osteoarthritis patients. A drop in atmospheric pressure is a precursor to a temperature drop and rain signalling a cool change coming through. For example, it is the force that brings in that welcome cool change after a summer heatwave.
We don’t fully understand the mechanisms influencing the body in this peculiar situation without undertaking further invasive studies but there are a few theories. Perhaps the presence of arthritis increases sensitivity in general in the affected joints thus increasing sensitivity to atmospheric changes that allows people to predict a temperature drop and rain in the next 24 hours. Or, cooler weather may shrink tissue in the joints exposing nerves and creating pain. Or the pressure of the air may change how the liquid between the joints flows, becoming thicker or thinner producing pain responses.
How to treat the pain
The good thing about weather related pain is that it is temporary. Unfortunately, it is likely to be recurring as the weather shifts constantly. There are simple methods to treat the pain when you feel a change in the air.
- Visit the hydrotherapy pool at your local aquatic centre. The humid air and warm water are relaxing and will relieve pressure on joints. It is also a good space to exercise in a non-impact environment.Alternatively, try a dry sauna to allow the hot air to loosen joints.
- Apply a Lupin hot-cold pack. Have one in the house, pop it in the microwave and apply to the sensitive area whenever needs arise. This is a cost-effective remedy to have at home.
- If you are working or on-the-go and want to apply heat, discreet Hoteeze pads can be applied between layers of clothes. They last for about 12 hours.
- Apply a therapeutic cream or gel like Fisiocrem that increases heat temporarily.
After years, possibly even centuries, of anecdotal evidence pointing out that joint pain and changing weather patterns are related, researchers are finally starting to believe people are telling the truth. So, if someone in your life has arthritis and predicts rain, take heed and reach for an umbrella and a hot cup of tea.