Weather and Back Pain Link May Be a Myth

Low back pain onset not tied to weather factors like humidity and temperature

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many have said they could feel a storm brewing through pain in their back. But is this sensation founded in science? A new study suggests the link between weather and pain may be nothing more than an old wives tale.

This new study examined the timing of back pain episodes and weather data in order to look for a potential link.

The researchers found no link between most weather factors — including temperature, humidity and precipitation — and back pain.

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This study was led by Daniel Steffens, BPhty (Bachelor of Physiotherapy), of the University of Sydney's Sydney Medical School in New South Wales, Australia,

According to Steffens and colleagues, people with pain in the muscles or bones sometimes report that the weather can influence their symptoms.

These researchers wanted to explore this topic, particularly among patients with low back pain. To do so, they looked at 993 patients at primary care clinics in Sydney. The patients, who had an average age of 45.2, all sought treatment for a sudden episode of back pain during October 2011 to November 2012.

Information on the patients and their symptoms were gathered, as were data on a number of weather conditions. The weather data came from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and included factors like temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed, wind gust and precipitation.

Weather data from the time when the patients' back pain developed were compared to weather data from one week and one month before the pain began in order to look for patterns and relationships.

After analyzing the data, Steffens and team found no association between the vast majority of weather factors — including precipitation like rain or snow, humidity levels and temperature — and the development of back pain.

However, the researchers did find a slight relationship between back pain onset and wind speed and wind gust in the 24 hours prior. A higher wind speed (an increase of 11 kilometers per hour, or nearly 7 miles per hour) was associated with a 1.17 times greater likelihood of back pain onset, and a higher wind gust (an increase of 14 kilometers per hour, or nearly 9 miles per hour) was associated with a 1.14 times greater chance of back pain beginning.

"Weather parameters that have been linked to musculoskeletal pain such as temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, and precipitation do not increase the risk of a low back pain episode," wrote Steffens and team. "Higher wind speed and wind gust speed provided a small increase in risk of back pain and while this reached statistical significance, the magnitude of the increase was not clinically important."

This study did not include information on how much time patients spent outdoors in the elements, which may have some effect on the findings. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

This study was published online July 10 in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
July 9, 2014
Last Updated:
July 13, 2014