You probably have at least one relative who swears that their aching knee means that it’s about to snow, or that their crampy shoulder signals rain. But can body aches really predict a weather change? As YouTube science series SciShow points out, the evidence is mixed.
Certainly enough people believe they experience more body aches when it’s cold outside for scientists to keep studying whether or not there really is a link. In 1995, researchers studied the correlation between body aches and the influence of weather in 558 chronic-pain patients, finding that while the majority of those people believed changes in weather affected their pain, there was no conclusive evidence to suggest a correlation.
More recently, in 2007, researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center looked at 200 people with knee pain from osteoarthritis, and found that there could actually be a relation between the patients’ pain and the temperatures outside — as it got colder and barometric pressure went up, people reported feeling more pain.
In that case, however, it’s important to keep some key variables in mind: The patients already suffered from arthritis, and the study was particular to knee pain. Indeed, people who suffer from one form of arthritis have been found to be more sensitive to weather changes. A 2014 study that looked at more than 2,900 older people (ages 65 to 85) with osteoarthritis found that a majority of those patients said they felt more joint pain when the weather changed.
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, an associate physician and clinical chief of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wrote for Harvard Health Publications in 2015 that he often hears patients with arthritis complaining that the weather affects their symptoms. While he says that more research needs to be done to uncover the link, he does “believe there is a connection between weather and joint symptoms.”
In terms of more general pain, a study from August of this year found that pain-related searches in 45 cities over the course of five years actually spiked during warmer months, suggesting that if there is a link, it could be quite different from what we typically think of when it comes to weather and pain. Perhaps heat is what hits us where we feel it, and not cold or rain?
Still, Lauren Farrell, M.S.P.T., a physical therapist and clinic director of Professional Physical Therapy in Hoboken, NJ, told Self last year that generalized joint pain is a common complaint among her patients during colder weather. And as Armin Tehrany, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and founder of Manhattan Orthopedic Care, also told Self, a common theory for this is that changes in barometric pressure cause inflammation in the joints.
Since the medical community isn’t finding a consensus on this, there are only two expert opinions you should take to heart: yours and your doctor’s. If you’re feeling the pinch in colder months and it’s bothering you, definitely check in with your doctor. You shouldn’t ignore any pain that keeps coming back — whether it signals a rainstorm each time or not.