Bad weather linked to joint pain could be a myth

August 12, 2017  16:52
In fact, people reported more knee and hip pain when the weather was good, suggesting it is activity, not cold or rain that affects sufferers most.

Arthritis, causing achy joints affects ten million Britons and is said to be fuelled by the damp climate.

But people's activity levels, which rise with the temperature, are likelier than the weather to trigger online searches for knee and hip pain, say scientists.

Google hits for arthritis over a period of five years had no discernible link with the elements, said Professor Scott Telfer.

He said: "You hear people with arthritis say they can tell when the weather is changing.

"But with past studies there's only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those."

In fact searches for knee-and-hip-pain increased in tandem with temperatures - until it got uncomfortably hot.

And rainy days tended to slightly reduce internet traffic for both conditions. This inferred "changes in physical activity levels" were primarily responsible.

Prof Telfer, a researcher in orthopaedics and sports medicine at Washington University in St Louis, said: "We haven't found any direct mechanism that links ambient temperature with pain."

His interest in using internet data stems from the fact web searches are increasingly people's first response to experiencing adverse health symptoms.

He said some people with achy joints and arthritis swear weather influences their pain.

So in the first study of its kind across 45 major US cities he found sunshine, rainfall and temperature are indeed associated with joint pain, but not in the way you'd expect.

Within the study's focus span of 23 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit searches rose steadily. Knee-pain peaked at 73 degrees and were less frequent at higher temperatures.

Hip-pain searches peaked at 83 degrees and then tailed off. Rain actually dampened search volumes for both.

The findings published in PLOS ONE show people's activity level is a bigger risk than the weather to cause pain that spurs online searches.

Prof Telfer said: "We were surprised by how consistent the results were throughout the range of temperatures in cities across the country."

His team used Google Trends for how the number of searchers for arthritis or hip and knee pain fluctuated with the weather. Searches related to stomach pain were also calculated as a control.

Daily summaries of local weather data from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2015 included temperature, rainfall, relative humidity and barometric pressure.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

These are factors previously suggested as associated with increases in musculoskeletal pain.

Among all the variables only temperature and rainfall were found to have statistically significant associations for knee-and-hip-pain but not arthritis.

Prof Telfer said:

"What we think is a much more likely explanation is the fact people are more active on nice days - so more prone to have overuse and acute injuries from that and to search online for relevant information.

Arthritis: From osteoarthritis to rheumatoid, here are different types of the painful condition that affects around 10 million people in the UK.

                       

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