Science of the Everyday
Weather and joint pain
Common sense tells those of us who have broken bones since healed and other joint pains like arthritis that the weather can greatly affect the way those sites feel. Who doesn’t have a grandmother who can forecast rain by her trick knee? It would appear to be an open and shut case: low barometric pressure and cold weather cause aches. Surprisingly, that’s not the case scientifically. While quite a bit of research has been undertaken over the years in attempts to pinpoint the mechanisms for this kind of pain, so far no study has come through with any definitive explanation.
That’s not to say we’re making it up. There is evidence that our anecdotes may be on to something concrete. We do know that nerve endings on joints have the ability to sense changes in pressure. And a Japanese study earlier this decade found a direct connection between low pressure and temperature and joint pain in rats. That research pointed to the inner ear as the command station for weather sensing, although the link between the two still remains to be defined.
Anyone who has flown on an airplane can attest to the sensitivity of the organs in the ears, so it should stand to reason that they would be involved. We might assume the ears and weather would have influence on migraines as well, but a 2004 study in Headache could not find a statistical correlation between two years of weather data and clinical information from migraine sufferers. So the connection between pain and weather remains a mystery scientifically—and those of us who experience continue with our amateur meteorology.