Association between rainfall and diagnoses of joint or back pain: retrospective claims analysis

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

To study the relation between rainfall and outpatient visits for joint or back pain in a large patient population.

DESIGN

Observational study.

SETTING

US Medicare insurance claims data linked to rainfall data from US weather stations.

PARTICIPANTS

1 552 842 adults aged ≥65 years attending a total of 11 673 392 outpatient visits with a general internist during 2008-12.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES

The proportion of outpatient visits for joint or back pain related conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, spondylosis, intervertebral disc disorders, and other non-traumatic joint disorders) was compared between rainy days and non-rainy days, adjusting for patient characteristics, chronic conditions, and geographic fixed effects (thereby comparing rates of joint or back pain related outpatient visits on rainy days versus non-rainy days within the same area).

RESULTS

Of the 11 673 392 outpatient visits by Medicare beneficiaries, 2 095 761 (18.0%) occurred on rainy days. In unadjusted and adjusted analyses, the difference in the proportion of patients with joint or back pain between rainy days and non-rainy days was significant (unadjusted, 6.23% v 6.42% of visits, P<0.001; adjusted, 6.35% v 6.39%, P=0.05), but the difference was in the opposite anticipated direction and was so small that it is unlikely to be clinically meaningful. No statistically significant relation was found between the proportion of claims for joint or back pain and the number of rainy days in the week of the outpatient visit. No relation was found among a subgroup of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

CONCLUSION

In a large analysis of older Americans insured by Medicare, no relation was found between rainfall and outpatient visits for joint or back pain. A relation may still exist, and therefore larger, more detailed data on disease severity and pain would be useful to support the validity of this commonly held belief.

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