A recent study published in the British Medical Journal determines whether there is a correlation between the occurrence of rainfall and achy joints.
It is widely believed that changes in the weather can contribute to the intensity of back and joint pain, especially for patients diagnosed with arthritis. Previous research on the topic, however, has yielded mixed results.
An American study recently published by the British Medical Journal identifies some drawbacks of previous studies, including their survey-based method of collecting data and their small sample sizes. In contrast, this new study includes a larger sample size and links the data to records of daily rainfall to determine any potential correlations between rainy days and achy joints.
Comparing Medical Records to Weather Records
The study consisted of two distinct sets of data: joint and back pain information and geographical information on levels of rainfall. Joint and back pain was recorded through primary care visits to US Medicare beneficiaries. Rainfall levels were localized to their geographical regions and organized by zip code. The researchers included data from patients of 65 years of age or older between 2008 and 2012. They collected weather information through the Global Historical Climatology Network Daily database. The study included precipitation measurements from across the United States over a period of five years. The researchers compared the number of patient visits to clinics for joint pain, back pain, or both, with the weather conditions.
Rainy Days Did Not Lead to More Doctor Visits
The results showed that 18% of patient visits occurred on a day with rainfall. The research found no significance in the correlation between the proportion of patient visits and the number of rainy days in the week of the visits. The study also tested for the specific diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and no significant correlation was found between rainfall and patient visits for rheumatoid arthritis.
The results of this study debunk a common assumption of joint and back pain being associated with rainfall and similar weather conditions. Despite these results, however, a correlation may still exist outside of the limitations of this study. The study did not record the extent of the symptoms, and so any correlation between the intensity of joint or back pain and rainfall could not be determined. It is possible that patients with achy joints during rainy days were self-medicating, and did not report these symptoms to their doctors.
Further information on the patient’s medical activities such as drug prescriptions and other medical diagnoses may improve the accuracy of the results. With continued research on the subject assessing various parameters, there is a potential of a concrete understanding of the impact of rainy weather on symptoms of achy joints.
Written by Shrishti Ahuja, HBSc
Reference: Jena, A. B., Olenski, A. R., Molitor, D., & Miller, N. (2017). Association between rainfall and diagnoses of joint or back pain: retrospective claims analysis. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5326