As a polar vortex envelops the Midwest, virtually everyone is talking about the weather. In light of the historic chill, we’re revisiting an often-debated topic: does cold weather affect joint pain? Distinguishing between medical myth and fact isn’t always easy. Below we provide a brief timeline – working backward – of evidence collected on the subject.
In 2018, Rheumatology Advisor reported on a smartphone-based study conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. The investigators launched an app that collects self-reported pain levels and pairs them with local weather data. Although the final results of the study have not been released, preliminary results suggest that there is a correlation between poor weather conditions and joint pain.
A 2017 study published in The BMJ found no relation between rainfall and joint or back pain. The researchers analyzed data from 1,552,842 adults aged ≥65 years who attended 11,673,392 outpatient visits between 2008 and 2012. The investigators concluded that “the tendency of people to perceive patterns where none exist” may explain the persistent belief that joint or back pain is associated with rainfall.1
In 2016, a case-crossover study published in Pain Medicine found that rain, humidity, wind speed, and other weather parameters previously linked to musculoskeletal pain did not increase the risk for low back pain. The study included 981 participants who had experienced a new episode of acute low back pain.2
A 2015 study published in The Journal of Rheumatology found a causal relationship between osteoarthritis and humidity. The researchers collected data from 810 participants aged 65 to 85 years with osteoarthritis of the knee, hand, and/or hip.3
In 2014, a study published in Arthritis Care & Research found no link between the onset of back pain and weather conditions including temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction, and rain. The researchers collected weather data at the time symptoms first appeared and compared it with the weather 1 week and 1 month prior to symptom onset.4
A 2013 case-crossover study published in Clinical Rheumatology found that weather influences rheumatic pain in participants aged 50 to 65 years with rheumatoid arthritis. The participants were found to be 16% more likely to present with a flare during times of lower mean temperature.5
Suffice it to say, the results are all over the place.
What do you think? Does cold weather affect arthritis and joint pain? Take our poll.
- Jena AB, Olenski AR, Molitor D, Miller N. Association between rainfall and diagnoses of joint or back pain: retrospective claims analysis. BMJ. 2017;359:j5326.
- Beilken K, Hancock MJ, Maher CG, Li Q, Steffens D. Acute low back pain? Do not blame the weather – a case-crossover study. Pain Med. 2017;18(6):1139-1144.
- Timmermans EJ, Schaap LA, Herbolsheimer F, et al. The influence of weather conditions on joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis: results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis. J Rheumatol. 2015;42(10):1885-1892.
- Steffens D, Maher CG, Qiang Li, et al. Effect of weather on back pain: results from a case-crossover study. Arthritis Care Res. 2014;66(12):1867-1872.
- Abasolo L, Tobias A, Leon L, et al. Weather conditions may worsen symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis patients: the possible effect of temperature. Reumatol Clin. 2013;9(4):226-228.