Osteoarthritis and Back Pain: The Weather Plays No Part

HISTORICALLY, symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and back pain have been thought to be exacerbated by adverse weather conditions. However, research conducted at The George Institute of Global Health, Sydney, Australia, provides new evidence demonstrating that factors including temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, and wind direction have no impact on the severity of these indications.

Osteoarthritis affects almost 10% of men and 18% of women >60 years of age, with up to a third of the world’s population experiencing back pain at any given moment. “The belief that pain and inclement weather are linked dates back to Roman times. But our research suggests this belief may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their pre-existing views.” said Prof Chris Maher, Sydney, Australia.

In total, the studies recruited >1,350 patients with either lower back pain or osteoarthritis of the knee joints. Throughout the trial period, average daily temperatures ranged from 5.4–32.8°C. Weather data were collected from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and conditions recorded at three intervals: 1 week and 1 month prior to pain, and at the onset of symptoms. Results indicated that there was no significant association between the weather and osteoarthritis or back pain.

Previous comparable findings from the team on this topic provoked criticism, which fuelled the initiation of this additional study. The new results further confirmed the hypothesis that there is no connection between varying weather conditions and osteoarthritis or back pain, and was based on data independent from the original trial.

Prof Maher explained: “Human beings are very susceptible so it’s easy to see why we might only take note of pain on the days when it’s cold and rainy outside, but discount the days when they have symptoms but the weather is mild and sunny.” Although these results may yet again evoke a sense of ademancy from affected patients, lead-investigator of the osteoarthritis study, Assoc Prof Manuela Ferreira, George Institute of Global Health, Sydney, Australia affirms the importance of management and prevention, rather than the focus on factors outside one’s control.

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