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April 2011: Spring Rain and Joint Pain—Does Weather Affect the Bones?

31 Mar 2011

Dr. Kris Alden is a fellowship-trained, board-certified orthopedic surgeon who came to Weiss after training at the Mayo Clinic. His clinical specialty is in orthopedic surgery, and his areas of clinical interests include hip and knee replacement, minimally invasive hip and knee surgery, lower extremity surgery and hip resurfacing.

Kris J. Alden, M.D., Ph.D.
Surgeon, Chicago Center for Orthopedics
Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Chicago
Weiss Memorial Hospital
(773) 564-5870

Since the time of Hippocrates, physicians have recorded their patients’ abilities to correlate joint pain with changes in the weather, particularly the onset of rain or inclement weather. Even today, many patients present anecdotal evidence of this perplexing experience.

I have patients, especially those with knee arthritis, who often tell me they can predict the onset of bad weather based on their knee symptoms. While difficult to generalize, these prescient patients often dread erratic spring rains and look forward to the consistently warmer, drier summer weather. Some longingly describe the merits of Arizona or Nevada. Before I encourage my patients to challenge a seasoned meteorologist, I reiterate that presently there is little rigorous scientific evidence to explain how weather, such as rain, cold or changes in the barometric pressure, can adversely affect the joints.

Many investigators have examined this timely topic, with multiple studies over the past 50 years attempting to understand the relationship between joint pain and weather changes. Certain weather-related phenomena such as the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), jet stream migration, falling barometric pressure, rising humidity, solar flares and humidity have been examined. Only a few general conclusions can be made: Investigators and patients broadly generalize that cold, wet, changing weather conditions increase the prevalence of joint pain, while warm, dry and constant climate diminishes the joint pain symptoms.

Whether the increase in joint pain and symptoms is related to the influx of positive ions which herald the migration of an incoming weather front has not been determined. However, despite the lack of controlled, modern, rigorous scientific evidence, it is difficult to argue with hundreds of patients and historical reports going back many decades or even millennia.

To our patients suffering from joint pain: We physicians understand your symptoms and, like meteorologists, feel somewhat helpless to control them.

For more information
If you would like more information about joint pain, treatment options, or joint replacement surgery, or would like an appointment, please call Dr. Alden’s office at (773) 564-5870.

Joint pain can often be treated with over-the-counter and prescription medications or injections. Weiss is home to the Chicago Center for Orthopedics, a full-service clinical program that provides outpatient and surgical care for all bone and joint needs, as well as an Arthritis Clinic. After consultation with a doctor, some patients may decide they are ready for joint replacement surgery. Visit Joint University to learn more about hip and knee replacement surgery at Weiss.