Just how in-sync are our bodies with the weather? Sore joints and the cold winter months have always seemed like a packaged deal, but according to science, the evidence is still inconclusive. For some, runner’s knee wreaks its yearly havoc on winter workouts. For others, winter aches and pains are a convenient excuse to avoid the gym altogether and binge on their latest Netflix addiction instead.
A 2007 study revealed that changes in barometric pressure were directly correlated to osteoarthritis pain. A team of researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center examined 200 patients with osteoarthritis knee pain; the colder it got outside, the more debilitated the subjects became. A 2014 study had similar results—osteoarthritis patients between the ages of 65 and 85 reported higher sensitivity to pain when the weather changed. However, studies out there have one major caveat: they’re only surveying people with osteoarthritis, a condition that may be more susceptible to weather changes than other ailments. What about other types of pain?
While many believe there is a strong connection between the climate and the body, a more recent study published in the British Medical Journal this month debunks the common theory that weather influences pain. The observational study compared data of outpatient visits by Medicare patients for joint or back pain related conditions to the weather patterns, searching for a potential connection between rainfall and the patients’ physical ailments. The results? “In a large analysis of older Americans insured by Medicare, no relation was found between rainfall and outpatient visits for joint or back pain. A relation may still exist, and therefore larger, more detailed data on disease severity and pain would be useful to support the validity of this commonly held belief,” wrote study author Dr. Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, and Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School.
With so much contradictory data, it’s hard to pin down whether or not changes in the weather can actually influence pain. However, many experts recognize the significant spike in patients complaining of knee and joint pain in the winter months. “Having reviewed the studies, I find myself not knowing how to answer my patients who ask me why their symptoms reliably worsen when the weather is damp or rain is coming, or when some other weather event happens. I usually tell them that, first, I believe there is a connection between weather and joint symptoms, and second, researchers have been unable to figure out just what matters most about the weather and arthritis symptoms or why there should be a connection,” wrote Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, MD, for Harvard Health Publishing.
The scientific community recognizes a significant link between weather shifts and the sore knee that’s been acting up on your morning jogs, although much research still needs to be done to provide a definitive answer on the subject. As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to stay indoors when the temperature drops, you can now avoid your 2018 fitness resolutions with the excuse that doctors believe that seasonal joint pain isn’t just in your head.