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Weather's Effect on Back Pain

How Weather affects People with Back Pain

According to a recently published Dutch research study, levels of pain suffered by patients with hip osteoarthritis actually followed weather patterns during the course of a small sampling study that lasted for two years. Researchers examined pain levels that had been reported during a previous arthritis study and compared them to the appropriate weather records in order to take note of weather conditions that occurred on each day of the study.

Study Indicates Joint Stiffness Worse with Weather Changes

Study findings indicated that participants' aches and pain were only a little worse and joints were only a little stiffer when levels of barometric pressure and humidity rose. Sensitivity to weather changes is something that arthritis patients often complain about. Typically, they complain about being just a little "achier" when the weather fluctuates. Affecting approximately 27 million US citizens, osteoarthritis tends to be more common in individuals with the following characteristics:

  • Older
  • Obese
  • Previous injuries to their joints
  • Overuse of their joints
  • Weak muscles
  • A genetic predisposition

Greater than 60% of patients with osteoarthritis included in the study claimed that certain weather conditions (barometric pressure changes, temperature changes, and onset of rain) impacted the degree of pain and stiffness they experienced. The lead Dutch researcher stated that previous research that attempted to investigate connections between weather and arthritic pain levels found inconsistent results.

Researchers Use Weather Elements in New Study of Arthritis

This research team examined self-reported hip pain along with associated levels of functioning in 222 osteoarthritis patients who had taken part in a study involving glucosamine sulphate. Study participants had completed questionnaires at three month intervals over the course of a two year period. These questionnaires included the Western Ontario and McMaster University Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) which are scales utilized by patients for self-assessment of functioning and pain. Scores on this index range anywhere from 0 to 100. Zero indicates no presence of pain.

Dutch researchers obtained weather reports to coincide with the days that the participants completed their questionnaires. Collected weather information included elements such as wind speed, number of sunlight hours, average temperature, rainfall amounts, barometric pressure, and humidity. Any participants who had to have surgery treat their arthritic condition were dropped from the trial. Hence, 188 patients actually finished the two year study.

Approximately 70 percent of the study group was female who averaged around 63 years of age. At the beginning of the study, Average WOMAC pain scores were 23.1 and functioning scores averaged 35.1. During the course of the study, these two scores only improved slightly by approximately 2 points each. When weather conditions were compared to the functioning and pain scores, the pain scores rose by one point for every 10% elevation in humidity levels. Scores for functioning also rose by one point for every increase of 10 hectopascals (i.e. 0.29 of an inch) in barometric pressure levels.

In order for any change to be considered relevant clinically speaking, it had to change the WOMAC score by a minimum of ten points. The head researcher agreed that while needing a ten point difference in order for results to be considered significant does not mean the pain experienced by patients was not real. Other than the small size of the study, it did have certain limitations including the fact that none of the participants suffered from severe osteoarthritis and their pain was confined to a single joint. However, it is still considered to be a good overall study.


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