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Weather not tied to back pain: study

By Andrew M. Seaman

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Back pain is no more likely to strike on cold, rainy days than in fair weather, according to a new study from Australia.

Temperature, humidity, wind direction, precipitation and air pressure were not linked to the onset of lower back pain among close to 1,000 patients, researchers found. Higher wind speeds were tied to back pain, but they say the effect was small and wouldn’t be noticeable to the average person.

“There are many factors believed to trigger an episode of low back pain,” said Dr. Daniel Steffens, the study’s lead author from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney. “A better understanding of what increases the risk of back pain is crucial to better prevention and management of back pain.”

He and his colleagues write in Arthritis Care & Research that people with lower back pain, such as from rheumatoid arthritis, often report that their symptoms are influenced by the weather.

Despite how commonly patients report this phenomenon, the researchers write that there are few quality studies that examine whether there is a link between the two.

They analyzed data collected between October 2011 and November 2012 from 993 adults with lower back pain from the Sydney area.

Using information from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, they compared weather conditions on the days when patients first noticed their back pain to days one week and one month prior.

Out of all weather variables, only wind was linked to the onset of pain. Higher wind speed increased the odds of lower back pain by between 14 percent and 17 percent.

But that probably wouldn’t translate to a noticeable difference in pain onset, the researchers note.

“Higher wind speeds slightly increased the odds of back pain onset but the effect is not important,” Steffens told Reuters Health in an email. “People should not worry about the weather triggering their pain. Physical factors such as the way you lift and psychological factors such as stress and being fatigued are probably more important.”

He also said there is some evidence that suggests a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising and maintaining a healthy weight, may help guard against back pain.

Steffens noted that the findings may not apply to all types of joint pain.

“We would caution that there (are) other musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis that may be affected by weather parameters and the question of (if) weather influences these conditions has not been well tested,” he said. “The other issue is that we collected data in Sydney, which has a temperate climate, and it may be that in countries with more extreme weather conditions you may get a different result.”

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1oMEz1j Arthritis Care & Research, online July 10, 2014.

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