Weather factors such as temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, and precipitation did not increase the risk for a low back pain episode, and higher wind and wind gust speed had a minimal effect, according to an Australian case-crossover study published in Arthritis Care & Research.
“Many patients believe that weather impacts their pain symptoms,” lead author Daniel Steffens, BPhty, from the George Institute for Global Health, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Australia, said in a journal news release. “However, there are few robust studies investigating weather and pain, specifically research that does not rely on patient recall of the weather.”
The World Health Organization estimates that low back pain affects up to one third of the world population at any given time, making it the most prevalent musculoskeletal condition.
From October 2011 to November 2012, investigators at primary care clinics in Sydney, Australia, recruited 993 consecutive patients with a sudden, acute episode of back pain and interviewed them regarding pain onset, demographic, and clinical data. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology provided data regarding temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, wind speed, wind gust, wind direction, and precipitation for the entire study period.
The investigators compared weather parameters during the case window, or time when participants first noticed back pain, with those during 2 control time windows (same time duration, 1 week and 1 month before the case window).
There was no association of temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, wind direction, or precipitation with back pain onset. Likelihood of pain onset increased modestly with higher wind speed (odds ratio [OR], 1.17; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.04 – 1.32; P = .01; for an increase of 11 km/h) and wind gust (OR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.02 – 1.28; P = .02; for an increase of 14 km/h).
“Our findings refute previously held beliefs that certain common weather conditions increase risk of lower back pain,” Dr. Steffens said in the news release. “Further investigation of the influence of weather parameters on symptoms associated with specific diseases such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis are needed.”
Limitations of this study include a lack of potentially important individual data, such as time spent outdoors, characteristics of housing or work and air conditioning; reliance on the assumption that low back pain onset occurred while the individual was close to their home, introducing potential misclassification; and reliance on participant recall. In addition, the findings may not be generalizable to regions with more extreme weather conditions than Australia.
“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,” the study authors conclude. “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.”