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The Weather Probably Has Little To Do With Your Joint Pain

But not all scientists agree.

08/15/2017 11:31 EDT | Updated 08/15/2017 11:31 EDT
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The clouds darken, the first drops of rain appear on the windows, and you think to yourself: "Damn, my joints are going to act up today."

Turns out, you probably have nothing to worry about.

A new study that used Google search data suggests that rather than the weather, activity level is more likely to cause achy joints or arthritis.

Looking at data from 45 cities in the U.S., researchers noted that as temperatures went up to 23 degrees to 30 degrees Celsius, searches for knee and hip pain rose, too. Interestingly, rainy weather also put a damper on search volume for both knee and hip pain.

The research, which was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that people's activity level, which increases as temperatures rise, is more likely than the weather itself to cause pain, which, in turn, spurs those online searches.

"We were surprised by how consistent the results were throughout the range of temperatures in cities across the country," said study co-author Scott Telfer.

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Because searches for knee and hip pain increased as the temperatures got hotter, and searches for those terms were lower in volume when it got rainy, researchers concluded that "changes in physical activity levels" were primarily responsible for those searches.

"We haven't found any direct mechanism that links ambient temperature with pain. What we think is a much more likely explanation is the fact that people are more active on nice days, so more prone to have overuse and acute injuries from that and to search online for relevant information. That's our hypothesis for what we'll explore next," said Telfer.

We haven't found any direct mechanism that links ambient temperature with pain.

The study also found that searches about arthritis, the generalized term for joint pain, had no discernible correlation with the weather.

"You hear people with arthritis say they can tell when the weather is changing," said Telfer. "But with past studies there's only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those."

However, previous research published in the journal Pain did find an association between weather and chronic pain.

Among the people interviewed about their chronic pain, "Two-thirds said they were pretty sure that weather seems to affect their pain," Dr. Robert Newlin Jamison, who studies the psychology of pain, said. "Most of them reported that they could actually feel the changes even before the weather changed. In other words, they could feel some increased pain the day before the storm comes."

They could feel some increased pain the day before the storm comes.

And some experts believe there really is a link between joint pain and the weather.

David Borenstein, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center, said that it's typical for joint pain to start before the first raindrops fall.

"If you really listened carefully to Grandma or someone who had arthritis, they actually told you it was going to rain," he said. "They said, 'It's going to rain today,' and more likely than not, they were usually correct."

Clearly, there is no standard agreement among scientists on whether weather causes pain, but regardless, should you be suffering from chronic pain, you should consult with your physician on how to best control it.

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