Feeling achy? Contrary to popular belief, you can’t blame the weather for your back or knee pain—or at least that’s what new research from Australian scientists suggests. In a series of recent studies, pain symptoms were no more likely on cold or rainy days compared with hot or sunny days. So the tendency to link weather to joint problems may be based on people’s preconceived notions, rather than scientific facts.
Scientists from the George Institute for Global Health, a research facility associated with the University of Sydney and the University of Oxford, surveyed 981 people with lower back pain and 350 people with knee osteoarthritis, recording the dates when participants said they were in pain. Then they compared the weather on those dates with the weather on other dates—one week and one month earlier, for example—to serve as a control.
The resulting two studies, published in the journals Pain Management and Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, showed no connection between the onset of symptoms and temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction, or precipitation, for back pain or knee pain.
Chris Maher, PhD, director of The George Institute’s musculoskeletal division, says that the idea that pain can be triggered by bad weather goes back to Roman times. That may be because people are better at recalling events that confirm their pre-existing views, he says, like taking note of pain on bad weather days, but not on nicer ones.
This isn’t the first time Maher and his team have investigated the link. When they found no connection between weather and back pain in their initial study, the group received widespread criticism on social media. So the team did more research.
While it may seem intuitive that a cold or rainy day may affect symptoms like muscle stiffness, Maher says that’s not scientifically accurate.
“Perhaps [that would be true] for cold-blooded animals,” he wrote. “Humans are warm blooded, so our body temperature is pretty constant and our basic physiological parameters are also tightly controlled, despite weather changes.”
Maher and his colleagues encourage anyone suffering from joint pain to focus on risk factors they can control—rather than on the weather, which appears to have no real influence on their symptoms.
“For osteoarthritis, controlling your weight and engaging in a healthy amount of physical activity will have a large benefit for your symptoms,” he says. “People should look to those issues, rather than the weather.”