Researchers Say Weather Not Linked to Back Pain

You can blame a lot of things on the weather, but low back pain isn’t one of them, according to a new study out of Australia.

Researchers there found that sudden, acute episodes of low back pain are not linked to weather conditions such as temperature, humidity, air pressure, and precipitation. They did find that the risk of back pain slightly increases in gusty or high winds, but the association was not clinically significant.

Their findings are published in Arthritis Care & Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.


“Many patients believe that weather impacts their pain symptoms,” said lead author Daniel Steffens with the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney in Australia.

“Patients with musculoskeletal pain commonly report that certain weather conditions influence their symptoms, the pain from rheumatoid arthritis being a clear example of this. Previous studies have reported that cold or humid weather conditions and changes in weather conditions negatively influence symptoms in patients suffering chronic pain.”

Many of those studies are flawed however, because there was no control period and they relied on patient recall of weather conditions at the time of their symptoms.

For their study, Steffens and his colleagues recruited 993 patients who were treated for low back pain at primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia between October 2011 and November 2012. Sydney has a temperate climate with warm summers, mild winters and rainfall spread throughout the year.

Using weather data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, researchers compared the weather at the time patients first noticed back pain with weather conditions one week and one month before the onset of pain.

They found little evidence that episodes of low back pain were linked to weather conditions.

“Our study provides clear evidence that weather does not have an important effect on LBP (low back pain) onset. Only a trivial increase in the risk was observed with higher wind speed 24 hours prior to the onset of pain in this population of Australian adults,” wrote Steffens.

“One possible explanation for the lack of effect in our results may be the temperate climate of the Sydney region where the study was conducted. Regions with more extreme weather conditions may present a different result, but further research is needed.”

Steffens noted that there may be other types of chronic pain and musculoskeletal conditions other than low back pain that may be affected by weather conditions.

“Further investigation of the influence of weather parameters on symptoms associated with specific diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis are needed,” he wrote.

A study released last year by Dutch researchers found that weather conditions such as temperature, sunshine, and precipitation have no impact on fibromyalgia symptoms in female patients.

Many of our readers objected to the report, saying there was a strong association between sudden weather changes and their fibromyalgia pain, fatigue and other symptoms.

“I am a human barometer, I can tell you a storm is coming before the meteorologist know it,” wrote Penny Simpson.

“Sorry, but I just don’t believe this. I can normally tell what the weather is before I even got out of bed,” said Anne Adams.

“I guess my rheumatologist is a liar and so am I. My body is so in tune to the weather,” said Emily Greer.

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