One of the most common beliefs among those who suffer from back pain is the notion that when the weather is wet, their suffering will be worse. Despite the lack of scientific proof that exists, many patients who visit our spine specialist in New Jersey not only insist that their pain is worse when it is wet or cold, but even insist that they can predict the weather by the level of achiness or stiffness that they’re experiencing. Unfortunately for their predictions, a recent report published in the British Medical Journal and conducted by Dr. Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, and Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School examined the impact of weather on over a million-and-a-half patients and has concluded that it’s not necessarily so.
The study looked back at over 11 million appointments booked with internists by over 1.5 million patients aged 65 and under over a four year period, comparing those that were booked for back or joint pain (including disc problems, joint disorders, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and spondylosis) to see whether they were booked on rainy days or non-rainy days. After making adjustments for a variety of variables, they found that only 18 percent of those visits were booked on days with rain, and that there was no significant association between the number of back or joint pain complaints on rainy days vs. those on dry and sunny days. The study did not look at humidity or cold, which are also commonly blamed for increased pain.
The fact that the recent science disproves the idea of a link between damp weather and pain will do little to change your own experience, and there have been studies done that contradict the British study. A 2014 study showed that patients between the ages of 65 and 85 had higher sensitivity to their chronic pain in response to cold and damp, while another study conducted at Tufts-New England Medical Center showed that the colder it got, the worse their pain became. Another study conducted in 2007 showed that changes in barometric pressure have a direct impact on pain.
If you find that your own discomfort increases with foul weather, there are a few things you can do to make yourself feel better. These include:
• Using a heating pad or hot pack on the air that is causing you pain. Apply for 20 minutes at a time. You can also use heat wraps and adhesive heat patches that are available at most grocery stores and drug stores.
• Take a hot bath or go swimming. Sitting in a sauna or hot tub can also help.
• Keep moving. The more sedentary you are, the more likely you are to be affected by stiffness. Take a walk, even if it is around the house.
If you find yourself suffering from back or neck pain at any time, regardless of the weather, contact our office to make an appointment to see if we can offer you effective relief.