News ID: 261074
Published: 1122 GMT November 03, 2019

Does weather really affect our experience of pain?

Does weather really affect our experience of pain?

A new study finds that, for people living with arthritis and other conditions that cause chronic pain, a certain kind of weather increases pain.

When someone tells you that they can feel bad weather in their bones, they may well be right, reported.

Scientists, many at the University of Manchester, in the UK, have released the findings of a new study that exposes a link between chronic pain and humid, windy days with low atmospheric pressure.

The study is whimsically titled "Cloudy with a Chance of Pain." It also appears in the journal npj Digital Medicine.


A folk belief supported by science


"Weather has been thought to affect symptoms in patients with arthritis since Hippocrates (a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles)" said lead study author Professor Will Dixon, director of the Center for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis, at the University of Manchester.

"Around three-quarters of people living with arthritis believe their pain is affected by the weather."

The study included more than 13,000 people from all 124 of the UK's postcode areas, though the researchers sourced the final dataset from 2,658 people who participated daily for about 6 months.

The participants were predominantly people with arthritis, though some had other chronic pain-related conditions, such as fibromyalgia, migraine, or neuropathy.

The researchers collected the data with a smartphone app that they had developed specifically for the study. Each participant used the app to report their pain levels daily, while the app recorded the weather in their area using the phone's GPS.


Weathering pain


"The analysis showed," said Dixon, "that on damp and windy days with low pressure, the chances of experiencing more pain, compared to an average day, was around 20 percent."

"This would mean that, if your chances of a painful day on an average weather day were five in 100, they would increase to six in 100 on a damp and windy day."

The data suggested no connection between actual rainfall and pain. Likewise, the researchers found no relationship between pain and temperature alone.

However, it does appear that temperature can make pain caused by muggy, turbulent weather worse: The most painful days for participants proved to be humid, windy days that were also cold.


The value of the study


Dixon suggests that the study's findings could lead to meteorologists giving pain forecasts alongside air quality projections, which could help people with chronic pain "plan their activities, completing harder tasks on days predicted to have lower levels of pain."

This would be no small thing. Says Stephen Simpson, PhD, of the advocacy organization Versus Arthritis: "We know that, of the 10 million people in the UK with arthritis, over half experience life-altering pain every day. But our health care system is simply not geared up to effectively help people with arthritis with their number-one concern."

This leaves self-management as the only practical method for "helping them to get and stay in work, to be full members of the community, and simply to belong."

Carolyn Gamble, one of the study's participants, is living with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis, and she expressed happiness about the new insights.

"So many people live with chronic pain," she said, "affecting their work, family life, and their mental health. Even when we've followed the best pain management advice, we often still experience daily pain."

This is made even worse, Gamble said, by a tendency to blame oneself for flare-ups. She finds comfort in the study's conclusions.

Dixon also hopes that pain researchers find this new information useful as they pursue a deeper understanding of its causes and mechanisms.


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