“I think rain is on the way… my back is acting up today..” Do you know anyone who has said this? Maybe you think your joints are more accurate that your nightly newscast at telling you tomorrow’s weather?
A five-year study published recently in the British Medical Journal looked into a belief that is taken as fact by many people. Can you tell whether rain is on the way by the amount of pain you are feeling? Many people swear that they can tell when the weather is changing by an increase in joint pain in their body. This study looked at senior citizens in the US over a 5-year period to find an association between rainy weather and pain conditions such as arthritis, disc problems and other similar conditions and could not find a correlation. In fact, the study showed a slight inverse correlation – there were slightly fewer incidents of pain-related doctor visits on rainy days, as opposed to dry days.
The study did include days leading up to, and after, rainfall, to take into consideration the changes in barometric pressure that precede and follow a storm. It took as a “rainy day” any day with at least one-tenth of an inch of rain. The researchers looked for correlations between these days, and outpatient visits for pain-related conditions.
This surprising result does not rule out definitively a link between weather and pain. It is possible that people who live with chronic pain do not necessarily visit a doctor or seek out clinical care simply because their symptoms have increased for a day or two. What’s more, if a person knows that their back or their knee tends to flare up when it rains, they will probably just wait until after the rain ends to see if the pain goes away. If it does, that would confirm their self-diagnosis that “rain equals pain” and they would not seek any further treatment. Additionally, since rainy days tend to depress moods, and pain can be affected by mood, it is entirely possible that there is an undetectable mood-based element to people’s pain for which this study cannot account.
Further study is certainly needed. But at the very least, the assumption that bad weather leads to pain should be looked at with a grain of skepticism.