Updated 17 December 2015

Can the weather cause joint pain?

Unusual aches and pains that mainly older people feel in their bones and joints may indicate that there's bad weather on the way.


Did your Grandma use to say: “There’s rain on the way, I can feel it in my joints.” Or your dad at the racetrack: “’Seabreeze’ is going to win, I feel it in my bones!”

We live in an age of science, and uncannily accurate observations that cannot be proven scientifically are mostly dismissed as old wives' tales or lucky guesswork. Unexplained things do happen, though – like when 10-year-old Eryl Mai Jones predicted her own death in the disaster in Aberfan, Wales, in 1966, days before a mountain of coal waste crushed 144 people to death.

Animals also have ESP

This so-called “sixth sense” or intuition is not limited to humans, however, and animals are also reported to have extrasensory abilities. According to eyewitness accounts, just before the tsunami that hit coastlines in the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004, both wild and domestic animals appeared to realise that something life-threatening was about to happen and fled to higher ground.

Read: Me, myself, and I-ntuition

In the same vein, farmers are reported to know if it’s going to be a wet season by observing how high above the water weaverbirds build their nests. These birds seem to know beforehand how high water levels will rise.

Most of us explain this kind of thing away as “coincidence” and prefer to forget about it. But what if the unexplained is not so mysterious after all? Instead of dismissing unexplained events outright, it might be more helpful to accept that everything that happens must have a cause, even if we don’t know what it is. Shakespeare hit the nail on the head in Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Barometric pressure and achy joints

In the case of grandma’s arthritic joints and the weather, her abilities might not be that extrasensory after all, and the generally accepted explanation is actually quite simple: Bad weather is generally signalled by a drop in barometric pressure, which is pressure against the earth’s atmosphere. The pressure against our bodies also drops and our joints and other inflamed areas can start swelling and aching.

Read: Rheumatoid arthritis

Even though there are many cases of people with consistent “winning streaks”, the ability to predict the winning horse and how the dice are going to fall is much more difficult to explain. Success at the gambling tables is, however, not always the result of a sixth sense or ESP (extrasensory perception), and some people for example are good at what is called “card counting”.

According to Wikepedia, card counting is a casino card game strategy used primarily in the blackjack family of casino games to determine whether the next hand is likely to give a probable advantage to the player or to the dealer. Earlier this year, Hollywood star, Ben Affleck, was banned for life from Hard Rock Casino’s blackjack tables for counting cards. Understandably, casinos don’t like players with a winning streak, whether due to luck, ESP or skill, as it cuts into their profits.

Mind over matter

In the twenty-first century some traditionally opposing philosophies are finding common ground. With the advent of quantum theory, religion and science have found a surprising amount of common ground. Quantum theory/physics/mechanics and things like string theory are notoriously difficult to understand, which probably explains why these models of reality have not become part of the general understanding of reality, even though they have been around for almost a century.

At the risk of over-simplification, quantum theory proposes that matter is not nearly as solid as it appears to be and the universe is created and held together by thought, mind or consciousness. This makes the concept of God as the “prime mover” sound more and more like a probable reality.

Read: Religion affects psychiatric treatment

A recent book that reflects this shift is The ESP Enigma, The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena by Diane Hennacy Powel, M.D. In the book Dr. Powell, “a Johns Hopkins-trained neuroscientist, has brilliantly reassessed the meaning and nature of consciousness by exploring research on the workings of psychic phenomena”.

She takes mainstream science to task for ignoring unexplained phenomena like clairvoyance and out-of-body experiences because “they all defy the traditional model of consciousness as being solely the product of brain chemistry and wiring”. In her book Dr. Powell integrates concepts from physics, neuroscience, and other disciplines and offers a new explanation of ESP where psychic abilities are regarded as expanding our understanding and appreciation of consciousness.

If science and disciplines that have traditionally been regarded as “fringe” could stop being mutually exclusive and work together towards a more holistic understanding of reality, grandma’s arthritic knee could soon be doing much more than predict the weather . . .     

Read more:

Acupuncture and Alexander Technique improve neck pain

7 everyday things that could be damaging your joints

Why Does Pain Get Worse When a Storm Is Coming?


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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