Study offers cold comfort for weather affect on OA pain

While people with arthritis may complain about cold weather worsening symptoms, it seems that only wide temperature variations influence pain exacerbations in people with hip osteoarthritis.

An Australian study followed 129 people with hip OA and who self-reported hip pain on most days of the week. Participants were mostly women, with a mean age of 63 years and a BMI of 29.

The case-crossover study for 90 days required participants to complete an online questionnaire every 10 days and whenever they experienced a pain exacerbation – defined as an increase of ≥2 points on a 0-10 numeric rating scale for pain.

Weather variables were obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology for the person’s location or postcode on the days of the survey completion.

The study found high daily temperature variation during the previous 72 hours was associated with a higher risk of hip pain exacerbations.

Compared to a reference temperature variation of <10oC, the OR for a pain exacerbation was 1.12 for 10–20oC variation and 3.89 for >20oC variation.

No statistically significant associations were found between other weather factors such as maximum and minimum temperature, relative humidity, precipitation, and barometric pressure and the risk of hip pain exacerbations.

“Although individuals with OA often report that weather conditions influence their pain experience, we found negligible associations in our study except for daily temperature variation,” the study said.

The study, led by Dr Kai Fu from the Kolling Institute and Royal North Shore Hospital, said there was other evidence for an impact of weather variability on human health.

“It has been shown that the high daily temperature variation has adverse effects on human health via the cardiovascular, nervous, and immune systems by increasing blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen intake.”

The authors suggested that there may be physiological or psychological mechanisms at play however any relationship between temperature variability and pain required further exploration.

“Sensitized mechanoreceptors in joints can be irritated as a consequence of atmospheric pressure change, or microtrauma leading to pain can result from differential expansions and contractions of tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissues of varied densities owing to atmospheric changes.”

“The other explanation is that weather changes mood, and negative mood may alter pain perception.”

“Knowledge of these associations could help people with hip OA and practitioners to better understand and manage pain exacerbations (by choosing an air-conditioned environment or avoiding outdoor activities during days with high daily temperature variation),” the study authors concluded.

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