Q. Does the weather affect pain in the body?
A. The idea that people with arthritis or other types of pain can “sense” changes in the weather is often dismissed as an old wives’ tale. Research on the subject, though limited, does point to an effect of weather patterns on pain. For instance, a 2007 study by Tufts Medical Center researchers found that changes in barometric pressure and outdoor temperature affected the pain reported by patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Recent studies have also tied weather patterns to the incidence of headaches, and changes in atmospheric temperature to the number of patients reporting to an emergency clinic with acute dental pain.
An earlier survey led by Robert Newlin Jamison, a psychiatrist specializing in pain management at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that a majority of chronic pain patients reported that weather changes affected their pain, even those living in very different climates. “They would almost be able to forecast changes in the weather,” Jamison says.
Jamison says that it’s not known how weather affects the body, but one theory is that people with arthritis or other types of chronic pain have overly sensitive nerves that are triggered by atmospheric pressure changes that most of us never notice. Jamison says that aside from pressure effects, cold wet weather can also exacerbate pain by tightening muscles and ligaments.
Jamison adds that while many people don’t admit to feeling the weather, they should “be reassured that it seems to be a real phenomenon.”