A new pair of studies has concluded that changes in barometric pressure do not have a consistent and recognizable effect on osteoarthritis, joint and back pain.
The belief that bouts of joint and back pain can be brought on by changes in temperature and barometric pressure as well as humidity, cold and rain is an old and venerable one. But modern research has so far been inconclusive on the topic – up until now, as researchers from the George Institute for Global Health and the Kolling Institute, both at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, have put the theory to the test and concluded that weather and weather changes don't affect symptoms associated with either back pain or osteoarthritis.
In one study, 345 volunteers with knee pain associated with arthritis were recruited and asked to report on any experiences of joint pain over a three-month period. Their observations of pain events were checked against data on maximum and minimum temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure and precipitation to find no apparent association or correlation between exacerbation of joint pain and weather events.
The other study involved 981 participants with acute lower back pain who were asked to track their experiences of acute back pain while having their accounts compared to meteorological data. Again, researchers did not find a discernible connection, except in this case with reference to higher temperature, which “slightly increased the odds of pain onset,” said the study’s authors.
The results come in spite of a wealth of anecdotal evidence, leaving researchers to speculate that confirmation bias, the tendency to interpret events so as to support already-held beliefs, may have something to do with it.
"Human beings are very susceptible so it's easy to see why we might only take note of pain on the days when it's cold and rainy outside, but discount the days when they have symptoms but the weather is mild and sunny,” says Professor Chris Maher of the George Institute for Global Health and co-author of the back pain study.
In fact, putting faith in a connection between pain flare-ups and weather phenomena may be preventing people from working on those lifestyle features like diet and exercise which studies have shown actually work to alleviate symptoms from conditions like arthritis and back pain.
"People who suffer from either of these conditions should not focus on the weather as it does not have an important influence on your symptoms and it is outside your control,” says Professor Manuela Ferreira, Senior Research Fellow at The George Institute and co-author of the osteoarthritis study. "What's more important is to focus on things you can control in regards to managing pain and prevention.”
Over 4.6 million Canadian adults report having arthritis, a number that is expected to increase by 7.5 million by the year 2036, according to the Canadian Arthritis Society. The health impacts are estimated at $33 billion per year.
The Arthritis Society recently announced it will be funding a research trial at McGill University examining the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition affecting an estimated 520,000 Canadians, most of them women.
This is the second study on the medical uses of marijuana to be funded by the Arthritis Society, which sees this type of research to be crucial in filling knowledge gaps surrounding medical cannabis.
"These investments are about leading by example," says Arthritis Society president and CEO Janet Yale in a press release. "Patients and physicians both need to be able to make informed decisions about whether cannabis has a place in the individual's treatment plan.”