Monday, February 20, 2017

SearchResearch Challenge (2/20/17): Weather causes pain?

Myths and folk tales sometimes... 

... have their origin in reality.  This week we take up one of the most persistent of all folk stories--the connection between weather changing and aches/pains in the body.  

You've probably heard this before from your aging Aunt Matilda or antique Uncle Roy,   "When it's going to rain, my knee / hip / ankle starts to hurt.  It's the rheumatism..."  

Is this a real thing?  Or is it a story handed down through the ages?  I've often wondered this, and in doing a bit of searching I found that it's not as simple as you might thing.  So... Here's the Challenge for the week.  

1.  Can changes in the weather cause real joint pain? 

2.  Can changes in weather cause other kinds of pain in the body? 

3.  If so, what's the mechanism that causes the pain?  (How can this possibly be?) 

I know it's simple to do a quick search and find an answer--but I'm hoping you'll do more than just the simplest possible query.  

Instead, take a look at the evidence pro and con, and THEN tell us what you think... and WHY you think the answer is one way or the other.  

In a Challenge like this, we're testing your ability to pull together data from multiple sources and synthesize it.  Can you tell us what you believe (based on your searches) and why?  

Go beyond the obvious.  Think to yourself--"What kind of evidence would convince me of one way or the other?"    

Be sure to think about what kind of source you're reading, and whether or not the stories you read from different sources actually make sense together.  

Search on! 

Update:  As you probably noticed, this week's Challenge is slow in coming out.  Normally, we have a Challenge on Wednesday and an Answer on Monday.  But as I mentioned a while back, I'm doing a bit of traveling and teaching for the next several weeks.  So I'm slowing this blog down by a bit to accommodate my travels.  I'll be posting a Challenge on Monday, then answering it the next week. Hope you don't mind the slight slowdown.  It will let you spend more time on these slightly more difficult Challenges!  (I'll post some pix here from time to time.)  


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone.

    1. Can changes in the weather cause real joint pain?

    [joint pain AROUND(4) weather]

    A study from Tufts University in 2007 found that every 10-degree drop in temperature corresponded with an incremental increase in arthritis pain... In the page searched [weather]

    Weather affects Asthma, and Migraines

    WebMD: Does Weather Affect Joint Pain?"...There's no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain, or if a specific mechanism is at fault, Jamison says. But there are plausible theories..."

    Harvard:Can the weather really worsen arthritis pain?"...Despite this, we still don’t know whether it is one particular feature of the weather or a combination of features that matters..."

    (University Specialty Clinics is the medical practice of the physicians of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine) Fact or Myth: Weather Affects Arthritic Joint Pain
    46 million Americans suffer from arthritis.

    Today I Found Out: CAN BAD WEATHER CAUSE JOINTS TO ACHE? Includes Bonus Facts


    It has to do with lower temperatures and falling barometric pressure.

    One leading theory points to changes in air pressure. Although many people say that their pain worsens with damp, rainy weather, research has shown that it's not the cold, wind, rain, or snow, Borenstein says. "The thing that affects people most is barometric pressure."
    Barometric pressure is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us.
    If you imagine the tissues surrounding the joints to be like a balloon, high barometric pressure that pushes against the body from the outside will keep tissues from expanding.
    But barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. This lower air pressure pushes less against the body, allowing tissues to expand -- and those expanded tissues can put pressure on the joint. "It's very microscopic and we can hardly notice, except that we have these sensations," Jamison says.
    Furthermore, when people have chronic pain, sometimes nerves can become more sensitized because of injury, inflammation, scarring, or adhesions, he says.
    Nevertheless, the link between pain and weather changes remains hypothetical; research has come to mixed conclusions, Jamison says. "All the results are not very clean, meaning there are people who say that weather doesn't affect their pain."
    Borenstein agrees that there's no consensus, but he finds barometric pressure a likely explanation because it does affect people's bodies.
    "It's not metaphysical; it's actually physical. It's the same kind of thing that you have with people who go up in a plane or [astronauts]," he says. "They are creatures of the atmosphere."
    At higher altitudes, there's less barometric pressure and our bodies react accordingly, Borenstein says. "When there's less pressure, we expand," he says. For example, he notes, even though plane cabins are pressurized, our feet often swell during a flight, but not while we're seated at our desks for similar amounts of time at sea level.

    This article describes other areas of the body that can be affected by weather. I have experienced terrible sinus headaches when there is a sudden drop in temperature, like going from 50 or 60 to 20 in one day. I seldom get headaches at any other time.

    A search of Medline revealed a number of peer-reviewed studies, some which agreed with the above and some which debunked it. So the scientific research is inconclusive but seems to be leaning toward a correlation between weather and pain.

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  4. Second Post.

    [weather human health]

    Bioclimatology, a vast field of medical knowledge, has only been developed in the past few years. It shows that the air we breathe has a profound influence on our well-being.

    Climate Impacts on Human Health (EPA) more related to Climate Change

    Harvard: How does cold weather affect your health? Immune system, heart, balance, skin and body temperature

    [effects of weather on human health]

    13 Ways Weather Affects Your Health — Without You Knowing"...Some things, however, we know are impacted by the weather — and why. One of the biggest? Blood pressure..."

    * Blood pressure
    * Asthma and allergies
    * Joint pain
    * Emotions and more

    [define Bioclimatology] the study of climate in relation to living organisms and especially to human health.

    [ Bioclimatology] [ Bioclimatology examples] [bioclimatology intext:weather intext:health] Interesting but not related to find answers we are looking for

    human bioclimatology. American Meteorological Society

  5. When Anne and I saw the challenge we decided to search in 3 ways - first on Google, then on Google Scholar and finally on medical databases.
    So starting off we used search terms -weather joint pain and one of the first results was to an article on WebMD "Does Weather Affect Joint Pain?" This article was easy to read and said because of the effect of changes in barometric pressure on the body, people could definitely feel changes in weather in their bones and joints. The article quotes Robert Newlin Jamison, PhD, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School and a researcher who has studied weather's effects on chronic pain patients, extensively. He states that when the barometric pressure drops it allows tissues to expand and put pressure on joints. He does say this is a very plausible reason but that research is mixed, That is what we found as well when we expanded our searching to medical journals.
    We'll post more in another comment.

  6. Deb and Anne part 2:
    We next used those search terms on Google Scholar and found this article "Effect of Weather Conditions on Rheumatic Patients" from the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. This study showed that women were more affected by changes in weather than men. "In most patients weather changes increased arthritic symptoms. Women were more sensitive to weather than men (62% v 37%). Pain was affected positively by barometric pressure and temperature in RA, by temperature, rain, and barometric pressure in OA, and by barometric pressure in fibromyalgia. These results support the belief of most rheumatic patients that weather conditions significantly influence their day to day symptoms." So again we got support that weather conditions did influence joint pain.
    Staying on google Scholar we switched search terms to weather AND arthritis and got this result from the International Journal of Biometeorology (which then gave us a new term biometeorology) - "The association between arthritis and the weather" - - This study done in Australia wanted to see if there was a relationship between the pain and stiffness of arthritis and the "weather variables of temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and precipitation". This study results "suggest (1) decreased temperature is associated with both increased pain and increased rigidity and (2) increased relative himidity is associated with increased pain and rigidity in arthritis sufferers."
    We now tried the terms weather and health symptoms (still on Google Scholar) and found this article "Prevalence of weather sensitivity in Germany". The results show that 19.2% of the population believe that weather influences their health to a "high degree", 35.3% that weather has "some influence on their health". The highest prevalence of WS (high + some influence) is found in the age group of > 60 years, in 68% of the subjects. The highest frequencies of weather-related symptoms are reported for stormy weather (30%) and when it gets colder (29%). The most frequent symptoms reported by weather-sensitive subjects are headaches/migraine (61%), lethargy (47%), sleep disturbances (46%), fatigue (42%), joint pain (40%), irritation (31%), depression (27%), vertigo (26%), concentration problems (26%) and scar paiwand this study again showed a significant number of people experienced this 23%. AGain the study showed many areas of health were affected.

  7. Deb and Anne part 3:
    Next we moved on to Pubmed and used the search terms weather and pain. One study "Acute Low Back Pain? Do Not Blame the Weather-A Case-Crossover Study." showed no relationship at all between weather and low back pain.
    Another study - "Influence of meteorological elements on balance control and pain in patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis."- - showed A decrease of postural stability was observed when atmospheric pressure and maximum humidity decreased in the morning (p < 0.05) and when atmospheric pressure decreased within a day (p < 0.05). Patient's knee pain was more enhanced when it is warmer in the morning (p < 0.05) and when it is wetter and warmer within a day (p < 0.05). The relationship between weather, pain, and postural control can help patients and health professionals to better manage daily activities.
    "Influence of meteorological elements on osteoarthritis pain: a review of the literature." - The conclusion was "Atmospheric pressure was the most frequently variable with some influence on OA pain in five of the included studies, while precipitation was less related to the symptoms of OA; wind was not analyzed. Despite the methodological diversity and biases of the analyzed studies, there is a trend to confirm the influence of weather in OA pain intensity, mainly in more recent publications."
    Finally we did a search on pubmed for migraine headaches and weather and found this study - Patients with migraine are right about their perception of temperature as a trigger: time series analysis of headache diary data." This study showed that a good percentage of patients were affected by changes in temperature.
    We didn't do more searches on other affects of weather like heat and increase in blood pressure but it appears looking at an article in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Therapies on Biometereology there are a number of ailments that are exacerbated by weather conditions from asthma to vasculitis and many others. This article includes of chart of the various ailments and under migraine headaches mentions the Chinook winds as being associated with migraine headaches. Germany has a wind called the foehn. I often heard family members complain that whenever that wind came they got headaches. Think they were right!
    Does the weather affect health. We think it does in many ways!

    1. Nice job! Interesting that we came to somewhat opposite conclusions. As I said, I found about as many YES articles as NO articles. I agree that temperature and migraines are probably linked, and I suspect that some people with joint pain are sensitive to temperature + humidity + pressure change, but that it's rarer than people believe (and that it's probably mostly temp + humidity).

  8. search applied to reporting & geopolitical info

    1. Glad you found this. You won't be surprised to know that Henk is a friend of mine.