Many of us have a family member who claims their “trick knee” knows when it’s about to storm. The funny thing is, they’re often correct with their guess. Now, they could be playing a trick on you by checking the weather reports and pretending it’s their knee or they just get extremely lucky, but what if they’re telling the truth? Is it possible that joints can predict changes to weather, and if so, how could this possibly be true?
When it comes to how weather can influence pain, there are a number of factors to take into account. The most common of these have to do with barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature, though precipitation has also been studied. The theory is that these atmospheric elements can play havoc on people suffering from arthritis, especially rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Each factor plays a part in its own way. For example, cold weather causes muscles to constrict and become stiffer, which can cause discomfort and exacerbate any other pain. Similar results have been found with migraines, where barometric pressure can cause blood vessels to constrict, leading to the migraine. Speaking of barometric pressure, as humidity rises and barometric pressure drops, swelling is common, which causes irritation and pain in the joints.
While these people tend to have some form of arthritis, not everyone with arthritis will get achy joints when a storm rolls through.
Not everyone appears to be sensitive to this, which is why only some people experience weather sensitivity. While these people tend to have some form of arthritis, not everyone with arthritis will get achy joints when a storm rolls through, but more on that later. At the same time, it appears that overall climate has little to do with perceived pain. Instead, it’s the change that seems to matter. So, someone living in a regularly cold or humid place may experience the same regularity of weather-related pain as someone living in a milder region.
So far, we’ve mostly dealt with the question of weather-related joint pain at face value, treating the theory as though it was true, but is it? The subject has received a surprisingly large amount of research over the years, only to yield wildly differing findings. We’ll start with the positives. There certainly are a large number of studies and reviews of studies that find some sort of relationship between weather factors and joint pain. For example, this study published in a 2007 American Journal of Medicine found a modest increase in knee pain when barometric pressure and temperature drop. Similarly, a 1997 study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology linked a decrease in temperature and an increase in humidity to elevate joint pain and rigidity for arthritis sufferers. Some studies even looked into different conditions that can cause joint pain, like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia, and still found a significant link with weather-related pain.
The subject has received a surprisingly large amount of research over the years, only to yield wildly differing findings.
That’s not to say that it’s a closed case, however. There is as much evidence showcasing little to no effect as there is showing a statistically meaningful one. For example, one 2004 study conducted in Australia found no connection between any weather-related factors (other than wind gusts) and back pain. Another study found no absolute correlation between weather factors and joint pain. Of course, some studies left room for more research that allowed for the possibility of establishing a relationship down the road. One of these studies found no connection between rainfall and joint pain that resulted in an outpatient visit, though the study acknowledges that analysis of more detailed data may find a connection. Another study found no consistent link between the weather and joint pain but noted that some individuals did experience joint pain and called for further research to look into this.
Let’s say that a storm is coming and you are noticing that your joints hurt. What can you do to relieve that pain? The first step would be to treat it like any flare up of arthritis. Over-the-counter painkillers can do a lot to help reduce inflammation and cut back on the pain, while using something like a cane to take pressure off the joints may help. You can also try to stabilize your environment by using a dehumidifier or turning your home to a moderate temperature. This may clear up the environmental factors that may be causing your pain. Other than that, unless you can control the weather, there’s not a lot you can do to avoid some of the discomfort outside of regular long-term arthritis mitigation strategies.
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So, can your “trick knee” actually predict when a storm is coming? Maybe? The evidence is there, but there’s too much evidence on the contrary to be more certain. Research that’s already been conducted is surprisingly promising for a claim that’s usually laughed off as a funny quirk of a relative. With more research, it may turn out that they were right the whole time, and they really didn’t need the weather reports to know a storm was coming. More importantly, by knowing how the environment can influence joint pain, we can work to more effectively relieve that pain for those who live with it.