Weather Changes and Osteoarthritis Pain Response

Let’s review the evidence of studies on how our bodies respond to changes in weather…

Healthcare workers will hear something like this all the time, “There is rain coming because I feel it in my bones.” Is this just anecdotal or is this a fact for people with osteoarthritis? Can the temperature or atmospheric pressure cause an exacerbation in pain? Why do so many people escape to the south during the winter months?

Let’s explore the studies out there to see what the science says.

An Australian study found no difference in episodes of pain with change in temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and precipitation but anecdotally the participants reported exacerbations in knee pain over the three-month period (Ferreira et al., 2016). Wilder (2003) looked at osteoarthritis pain in the neck, hand, shoulder, knee, and foot with weather change and concluded that the results were not statistically significant enough to draw any conclusions. They did, however, see that women with hand osteoarthritis did significantly have higher pain on days of rising barometric pressure.

A small American study conducted over 3 months showed that short term ambient temperature and barometric pressure changes affected knee osteoarthritis pain severity (McAlindon, Formica, Schmid and Fletcher, 2007). A causal relationship was found between joint pain and daily average weather conditions, however the associations between day-to-day weather changes and pain do not confirm causation (Timmermans et al., 2015). Building on the positive outcomes, a small study looking at end-stage hip osteoarthritis and pain severity over a one-month period revealed the atmospheric pressure influenced patients’ symptoms, but temperature and precipitation did not (Brennan et al., 2011). A literature review conducted by De Figueiredo et al. (2011) found in all the included papers that atmospheric pressure had an effect on osteoarthritic pain and precipitation was less related.

Interestingly, Wu et al. (2022) explored if temperature played a factor in osteoarthritis patients attending physiotherapy appointments. It was found that if the daily high was over 23 Celsius, there was an increase in participate in physio, and the reverse was found when the temperature was below 23 degrees Celsius.

Overall, we can see that there is some contradicting evidence as to whether the weather plays a significant role in patients dealing with osteoarthritic pain but there is a positive trend. Further studies should be conducted to explore the relationship between weather and pain response in more depth and why it occurs in arthritic joints. The conclusions drawn from the studies show that weather changes do affect pain severity, and this can validate the experiences of people living with osteoarthritis. In addition, these findings help healthcare workers and patients understand their condition and how best to manage fluctuations in symptoms.

Alison Parker, Registered Physiotherapist

References

Brennan, S., Harney, T., Queally, J., O’Connor McGoona, J., Gormley, I. and Shannon, F., 2011. Influence of weather variables on pain severity in end-stage osteoarthritis. International Orthopaedics, 36(3), pp.643-646.

De Figueiredo, E. C., Figueiredo, G. C., & Dantas, R. T. (2011). Influence of meteorological elements on osteoarthritis pain: a review of the literature. Revista brasileira de reumatologia51(6), 622–628.

Ferreira, M., Zhang, Y., Metcalf, B., Makovey, J., Bennell, K., March, L. and Hunter, D., 2016. The influence of weather on the risk of pain exacerbation in patients with knee osteoarthritis – a case-crossover study. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 24(12), pp.2042-2047.

McAlindon, T., Formica, M., Schmid, C. and Fletcher, J., 2007. Changes in Barometric Pressure and Ambient Temperature Influence Osteoarthritis Pain. The American Journal of Medicine, 120(5), pp.429-434.

Timmermans, E., Schaap, L., Herbolsheimer, F., Dennison, E., Maggi, S., Pedersen, N., Castell, M., Denkinger, M., Edwards, M., Limongi, F., Sánchez-Martínez, M., Siviero, P., Queipo, R., Peter, R., van der Pas, S. and Deeg, D., 2015. The Influence of Weather Conditions on Joint Pain in Older People with Osteoarthritis: Results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology, 42(10), pp.1885-1892.

Wilder, F., 2003. Osteoarthritis pain and weather. Rheumatology, 42(8), pp.955-958.

Wu, R., Pan, R., Wu, C., Chan, C. and Yeh, H., 2022. Association between weather and utilisation of physical therapy in patients with osteoarthritis: a case-crossover study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 23(1).

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