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Can Cold Weather Cause Back Pain?

Image of snowy weather possibly affecting joint pain

I see this phenomenon frequently in my office. When the weather gets cold or rainy, patients start to come in wondering if the bad weather has made their back pain worse. We have all heard stories of a relative who could predict a storm based on how her knee hurt. And many people move out of Norwalk, CT, in the northeast US, when they retire, in the hope that a warmer climate might reduce their back pain.

The anecdotal evidence (the accounts of regular people) seems to point to some link between some weather and some people’s pain. There are some studies that confirm this feeling. But, recent research does not back up the predictive power of your knees. That could mean there is no link between the weather and joint pain. Or, it could mean that the researchers just have not found a strong link yet. Let’s look at what the scientists say, and then I will give my thoughts on the topic.

What the Science says

I found two studies published in 2017 that asked if weather can cause back pain. One, from Australia, looked at six different weather events, and found that it did not cause acute back pain. Another, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at Medicare patients in America and tried to link rainfall to doctor visits. They also did not find a relationship here. The first study looked at whether the weather caused new back pain. The second asked whether someone visited the doctor in some relation to a rain event.

A study from 2016, looked at a group of people with knee arthritis. They asked them to report when they had a flare up of pain. Then they tried to see if those flare ups were related to temperature or barometric pressure.  In this case, they did not find a link to the weather. I like the way this study asked the question, and it surprised me to see no weather link found here.

Very interesting results were found by a large study conducted in various European countries that asked people to report whether they were sensitive to weather or not. In the group that said weather affected their pain, they did find a link to weather changes. Surprisingly, people in the more northern countries, like Sweden, were less affected by the cold and damp than were those from Spain and Italy.  This suggests that it is the change in weather that affects some individuals, not just the cold and rainy weather in general.  This study seems to reject the notion than move to warmer climes will help. The change in weather phenomenon was also found in this study in 2011 that found a link between atmospheric pressure and hip arthritis pain.

Finally, this 2007 study, from the American Medical Journal, found a connection between knee arthritis and barometric pressure.

So, Can Weather Cause Back Pain?

As usual, there are conflicting results in the scientific literature. After reading these articles, it does seem that overall, there is support for some individuals to be sensitive to the weather. It does not appear that the weather can cause a new onset of pain, but it can contribute to a flare up of arthritis. Arthritis is a wearing down or damage to the cartilage inside a joint. So when the atmospheric pressure changes, it may also change the pressure inside of the joint. This change in pressure can cause some people to have more pain, and coincidentally predict the weather.

Chiropractic treatment remains a great choice for dealing with arthritis and back pain. Adjustments keep the joints moving properly, and motion keeps the joints lubricated and less painful. I recommend trying a heat pack when arthritis pain flares up. However, it can be difficult to determine if arthritis is the cause of your back pain. Since heat can aggravate pain caused by an injury, getting an accurate diagnosis is important. If you need help with a diagnosis or treatment for this type of condition, I would be happy to help.  Contact us with questions, or click below to set up an appointment.

Make an appointment with Dr French, Chiropractor in Norwalk, CT