Can Joint Pain Really Forecast a Storm?

The myth: Joint pain predicts the coming of a storm. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

Image: Nevit Dilmen found at Wikimedia commons

At an impromptu pre-Sandy party this week, one of my pals, a former Ivy League football star, said he knew the storm would be huge not because of Anderson Cooper's ominous satellite map churning on the TV, but because his gridiron-ravaged, twice operated-on knee was killing him—far worse than it did before Irene.

Another reveler, an avid runner, chimed in that her nagging lower back often grew more stiff before rainy runs. This made us wonder: does this folky forecasting hold any medical merit?

A landmark Tufts University study showed that there was indeed a correlation between the change in weather and joint pain and/or stiffness. It suggested that those with arthritis in their knees reported a short-term increase in pain when their local weather saw a shift in atmospheric pressure (the weight of the atmosphere pressing down on us) and/or a drop in temperature.

What's interesting is that the study showed, counterintuitively, that a significant drop in pressure (ripest condition for a major storm) consistently produced a pain-induced prognostication. You'd think having less pressure on your joints would be a good thing. But it's the sudden shift that causes the pain, as the arthritic joint (or a younger person's injured joint) can no longer adjust as quickly to a major change in pressure, and as a result, hurts like hell until it finally adapts.

So, it turns out you may not need all the fancy weather maps to alert of you of a major storm heading your way; just call your grandparents or ask an ex-athlete. According to this and other studies, joint-pain predictors were right about 80 percent of the time, which, if you believe the American Meteorological Society, is roughly the same batting average as your local TV weatherman.

— Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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