Study Finds Link Between Weather and Chronic Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

There may be something to the old adage about “feeling under the weather.”

Early results from a smartphone-based weather study in the UK show that rain and lack of sunshine have an impact on how we perceive pain.

Over 9,000 people are participating in The University of Manchester’s Cloudy with a Chance of Pain project,  using a special app to record their daily pain levels.  

The app also captures hourly weather conditions using the phone’s GPS, giving researchers the ability to compare the pain data with real-time local weather.

Researchers reviewed data from participants in three cities – Leeds, Norwich and London – and found that as the number of sunny days increased from February to April, the amount of time participants spent in severe pain decreased.

Conversely, when the weather turned rainy and cloudy in June, the amount of time spent in severe pain increased.

The 18-month study is only half complete and researchers are still looking to recruit as many people as possible who are willing to track their symptoms.

“If you are affected by chronic pain, this is your chance to take do something personally – and easily – to lead to a breakthrough in our understanding of pain,” said lead investigator Will Dixon, a professor of Digital Epidemiology at The University of Manchester’s School of Biological Sciences.

The Greek philosopher Hippocrates in 400 B.C was one of the first to note that changes in the weather can affect pain levels. Although a large body of folklore has reinforced the belief that there is a link between weather and pain, the science behind it is mixed.

A 2014 study in Australia found that low back pain is not associated with temperature, humidity and rain.  A 2013 Dutch study also concluded that weather has no impact on fibromyalgia symptoms in women.

“Once the link is proven, people will have the confidence to plan their activities in accordance with the weather. In addition, understanding how weather influences pain will allow medical researchers to explore new pain interventions and treatments,” says Dixon.

People with arthritis or chronic pain who are interested in joining the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain project – and who have access to a smartphone – can download the app by clicking here. You need to be at least 17 and live in the UK.

Participants are encouraged to record their pain symptoms daily until the project ends in January.  Researchers hope to use data to develop “pain forecasts” based on weather predictions.