Do Aches and Pains Really Predict the Weather?

Do Aches And Pains Really Predict the Weather?

Written by Alex Reid
Posted June 6, 2012

Well-groomed meteorologists armed with Doppler radar are not the only way to predict the weather.

“I can feel it in my bones” is a common phrase older folks often say before a storm rolls in. And they're usually right.

It’s not just an old wives’ tale. Many people, particularly those with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, report pain with changes in temperature, barometric pressure, and precipitation.

Dr. Greg Deirmengian, an orthopedist at the Rothman Institute at the Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, tells MSNBC, “It is fairly well accepted that changes in weather do affect patients’ joints.”

Approxiamtely 27 million Americans live with osteoarthritis, the most common joint disorder, caused by aging and wear and tear on a joint. Rheumatoid arthiritis, a long-term disease, leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. By age 70, most people have osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Experts are not sure why exactly this happens, but most believe joints ache due to changes in air pressure.

Precipitation, rain or snow, is accompanied by a change in barometric pressure. Barometric pressure is a way of quantifying the amount of weight exerted on our bodies by the air surrounding us, according to the National Weather Service.

On dry, warm, sunny days the barometric pressure is high, but if a storm rolls in, the barometric pressure drops. This decrease in air pressure can cause the tissues around the joints to swell, causing arthritic pain, thereby allowing one to “predict” rain or snow.

“I am not sure I remember any patients who did not feel [pain during weather changes],” said Rheumatologist Dr. William F. Harvey, who works at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

According to Harvey, arthritic joints are under more pressure than healthy ones, lacking enough cartilage to properly cushion the joint and are often surrounded by extra fluid. This causes a person to feel pressure changes more intensely than someone with healthy joints.

Other factors thought to cause pain with weather changes are blood vessels and nerve endings.

Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to dilate, which causes muscles and joints to tense and stiffen. Joint fluid is also affected, becoming less viscous, preventing joints from moving smoothly.  

According to Dr. Deirmengian, changes in outside pressure can cause “these already twitchy nerve endings might feel the swing more acutely.” 

For those suffering with arthritis and want a more accurate forecast on how the weather will affect them, AccuWeather has created an AccuWeather Arthritis Index that combines all weather factors related to arthritis into an easy to use scale. 

You can check it out here, along with indices for migraines, allergies and asthma too.

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