My aching knees

By Bill Taylor It seems to me

March 4, 2014

It seems to me that there is an ongoing conflict on certain topics considered “folk lore” or “old wives tales” and the opinion of scientists and researchers on those subjects.

One such area are observations going back to the ancient Greeks of a relationship between weather and physical pain. For many years scientists and researchers reported they could find no correlation, no connection, between between weather conditions and the pain folks suffer in joints and other parts of their bodies whenever the weather was about to change.

As late as the 1990s a famous researcher reportedly concluded, “People’s beliefs about arthritis pain and the weather may tell more about the workings of the mind than of the body” - in other words, it’s all in your head.

My first encounter with this weather/pain phenomenon was when I was in grade school and the Hall family lived next door. I remember how Ed Hall, a really, really old man who must have been at least 60, used to tell folks when he felt a storm coming - and everyone believed him because he was so accurate.

As I recall his story he “got all stove up” in a farming accident involving an overturned horse drawn wagon. The expression ‘stove up” was fairly common when I was young. It meant bruised, crippled, sore or stiff from overwork or injury thus making getting around difficult and painful.)

Anyway, after his fractured bones healed, he began having intensified pain whenever the weather was about to change - caused by his “rheumatism acting up.”

The term “rheumatism” may still used in everyday speech , but is not often found in medical or technical literature. The reason? - there is no longer any recognized disorder simply called “rheumatism.” The traditional term “rheumatism” covers such a range of different problems that to ascribe symptoms to “rheumatism” doesn’t say very much - but the term tends to focus on arthritis.

According to folks who study such things, the terms arthritis and rheumatism between them currently cover at least 200 different conditions. Regardless, this overall category consists of any of several disorders that have in common inflammation of the connective tissues, especially the muscles, joints, and associated structures with the most common symptoms being pain and stiffness.

There has long been what is known as “anecdotal” evidence (that means reports or stories told by individuals) of a link between “rheumatic” pain and the weather. In general these reports describe changes in barometric pressure as the main link between weather and pain. Low pressure, generally associated with cold, wet weather, results in an increase in pain. Clear, dry conditions associated with high pressure results in a decrease in pain.

Until recently there has been no firm scientific evidence or explanation either for or against these stories. Guess what?

A group of scientists have now figured out a weather/pain association. While scientists don’t claim to understand all the workings of the body involved in weather related pain, there is one explanation gaining credibility - and is supported by observations and reports of pain victims. Briefly, our body’s joints are where our bones are connected by tendons and ligaments and these locations are surrounded by sacs of fluid and gas.

As the barometric pressure drops, indicating wet or stormy weather, the fluid and gas expand and press on the surrounding nerves which causes the pain. In joints that have been injured or have arthritis and already are sensitive, the effect is intensified because there is often a buildup of fluid in these areas.

On the other hand, when the barometric pressure increases indicating fair, dry weather, the fluid and gas in a joint contract relieving the pressure on the surrounding nerves resulting in a decrease in pain.

You know, the Weather Channel often includes a prediction of the “pain index” based on calculation of weather factors including barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind. It’s a bit more sophisticated scheme than checking with Ed Hall the way we used to, but the concept is the same.

Well, there you have it. A partial vindication of a “folk lore” or “old wives tale” and an explanation of my aching knees when the weather is about to change.

This explanation doesn’t really help relieve the pain, but it sure makes me feel better to realize it’s not “all in my head”. At least that’s how it seems to me.

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.