Chronic Pain and Weather Study Underway

By Pat Anson, Editor

The Greek philosopher Hippocrates in 400 B.C was one of the first to note that changes in the weather can affect pain levels. A large body of folklore has reinforced that belief, with expressions like “feeling under the weather” and stories about people being able to predict a storm because they “can feel it in their bones.”

British researchers are investigating that ancient theory with a modern twist, a smartphone based study called Cloudy with a Chance of Pain that aims to prove whether there is an association between pain and weather.      

“This question has been around for more than 2,000 years, but it’s only now with widespread modern technology that we have the ability to answer it,” says Dr. Will Dixon, Director of The University of Manchester’s Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology.

Anyone in the UK with arthritis or chronic pain who is over the age of 17 can participate by downloading an app from here.

The app uses a smartphone platform called uMotif that allows users to record how they are feeling, while weather data is automatically collected using their phone’s GPS.

“And we’re not just inviting people to submit data – we want their ideas about the association between weather and pain too,” says Dixon. “We will be running a big citizen science experiment where anyone can explore the data and try and spot patterns and relationships in the data. We’ll gather ideas and theories from everyone to come up the best possible conclusion.”

Participants are encouraged to record their symptoms each day until the project ends in January 2017. Even people who don’t have pain can participate by browsing through the data and submitting their own ideas. Researchers hope to compile the information and develop “pain forecasts” based on weather predictions.

“Many people with arthritis believe that changes in the weather affect the level of pain they experience, however there is currently no scientific evidence to support this relationship," said Stephen Simpson, Director of Research & Programmes at Arthritis Research UK.

“This exciting study will for the first time enable us to investigate the link between pain and the weather. We’re delighted to support this project and we hope that the use of the uMotif app will help encourage a wide group of participants to take part, both in terms of submitting their data but also examining the results themselves to help our scientists reach a conclusion."”

The weather-pain connection remains controversial. A 2014 study in Australia found that acute episodes of low back pain are not associated with weather conditions such as temperature, humidity and rain.  And a 2013 Dutch study concluded that weather has no impact on fibromyalgia symptoms in women.

You can follow the University of Manchester study on Twitter at @CloudyPain.

You can also learn more by watching this video: