Do changes in the weather actually make our bones hurt?

Turns out that low pressure systems — which often happen before bad weather — can cause tissue swelling that leads to bone and joint pain.

Nick Beare 3 minute read November 24, 2021
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It’s best to address any pain you might be having with a doctor and take precautions to help reduce joint pain. GETTY

There is no shortage of medical myths: You have to drink eight glasses of water per day to stay hydrated (you don’t), your hair and nails keep growing after you die (they don’t), we only use 10 per cent of our brains (we don’t), and many others like them.

What about bones and joints starting to ache right before it rains? Though that one seems like it should fall into the myth category, there might be some truth to it.

It appears the cold can lead to stiff, tight joints which, along with a drop in barometric pressure, can cause some aches and pain. That drop in pressure and temperature tends to happen right before a bout of inclement weather — which could be the reason why an achy knee might feel like it’s telling the future.

Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is the pressure within the Earth’s atmosphere. It is essentially the weight of the air molecules at any given moment, in any given place on Earth.

Barometric pressure is constantly fluctuating, so when it drops suddenly and puts less pressure on the body, tissue can swell. It’s possible the resulting enlargement of that tissue is what causes the irritation.

This is all theoretical, because nobody actually knows for sure why you might have some achy bones right before a storm hits. In fact, there is significant evidence suggesting there is no link between pain and weather.

It turns out the subject has been studied extensively, with one study finding no link between back pain and weather and another finding chronic pain does not correlate to climate.

In the latter study, scientists measured chronic pain patients in sunny, dry, San Diego, California and compared them to patients in Nashville, Tennessee, Boston, Massachusetts and Worchester, Massachusetts. Most of the patients in the study believed that the weather had a direct effect on their pain. But the study didn’t find a correlation between pain and weather — in fact, the people living in San Diego actually reported more pain than the people in the colder, damper cities.

Regardless of the findings, the anecdotal evidence supporting some link to cold, wet weather and pain is overwhelming. There is also some evidence that changes in barometric pressure can increase pain in people with osteoarthritis, a condition that affects approximately 3.9 million Canadians.

It begs the question whether any of the studies actually matter when so many people believe their pain worsens with a bout of bad weather. Pain is an incredibly personal and subjective experience, and a lack of concrete evidence doesn’t necessarily make those experiences invalid.

Instead, it’s best to address any pain you might be having with a doctor and take precautions to help reduce joint pain whether you’re weary of the weather or not.

Dressing in layers to warm the body before you step into the cold is good practice, as is staying active to build up muscle and bone strength. Stretching regularly, before and after exercise especially, should become part of your routine while making sure to get enough sleep to rest and heal affected areas is a must. Applying heating pads to ailing areas may also help relax muscles and joints.