Weather vs. Symptoms
"Aches and pains, coming rains" is no wives' tale for those who live with chronic pain. But are such weather-related complaints biological or psychological?
"People with arthritis have weather-related joint pain for biological reasons," says Michael Shutty, Ph.D. Their joints swell due to low barometric pressure. But among people with other types of chronic pain, the picture is not quite so clear.
Shutty and his colleagues created a questionnaire to evaluate how weather affects patients and gave it to those attending a pain clinic at Western State Hospital in Staunton, Virginia, for neck, shoulder, or arm pain.
All but three percent of them reported some connection between the weather and their pain. Temperature changes, humidity, precipitation, and sudden weather changes were most commonly reported as causing pain. Symptoms most influenced by weather were muscle aches and soreness, joint stiffness, and trouble sleeping, the researchers report in Pain (Vol. 49, P. 199).
Although a large number of patients said that weather affected their pain, "when you ask them to name specific symptoms, they're inconsistent," says Shutty. This suggests that psychological factors are involved.