Study Finds Rain Not Linked to Joint Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

The debate over weather’s influence on pain is heating up again, with the release of a new study that showed warmer temperatures -- not rainy conditions -- are associated with an increase in online searches about joint pain.

The apparent increase in knee and hip pain may be due to increased outdoor physical activity, according to researchers who reported their findings in PLOS ONE.

Investigators used Google Trends to analyze how often people used Google’s search engine to look up words and phrases associated with hip pain, knee pain and arthritis. Then they compared the results with local weather conditions at 45 U.S. cities. The weather data included temperature, precipitation, relative humidity and barometric pressure - conditions previously associated with increases in musculoskeletal pain.

Researchers found that as temperatures rose, Google searches about knee and hip pain rose steadily, too. But knee-pain searches peaked at 73 degrees Fahrenheit and became less frequent at higher temperatures. And searches for hip-pain peaked at 83 degrees and then tailed off.

Surprisingly, rain actually dampened search volumes for both knee and hip pain.

"We were surprised by how consistent the results were throughout the range of temperatures in cities across the country," said Scott Telfer, a researcher in orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Searches about arthritis, which was the study's main impetus, had no correlation with weather conditions.

"You hear people with arthritis say they can tell when the weather is changing," he said. "But with past studies there's only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those."

What do the findings mean?

Because knee and hip-pain searches increased until it grew warm, and rainy days tended to slightly reduce searches for hip and knee pain, the researchers speculate that changes in outdoor physical activity may be primarily responsible for those searches.

"What we think is much more likely explanation is the fact that people are more active on nice days, so more prone to have overuse and acute injuries from that and to search online for relevant information,” Telfer said, adding that web searches are often the first response people have to health symptoms.

Researchers in Australia recently reported that cold, rainy weather has no impact on symptoms associated with back pain or osteoarthritis. Warmer temperatures did slightly increase the chances of lower back pain, but the amount of the increase was not considered clinically important. 

A previous study on back pain and weather by The George Institute for Global Health had similar findings, but received widespread criticism from the public, a sign of just how certain many people are that weather affects how much pain they feel.

“I know it is going to rain or have a thunderstorm before the weather person announces it on the news,” says Denee Hand, who suffers back pain from arachnoiditis, a chronic inflammation of the spinal membrane. She says the pain spreads down to her toes when the weather changes. 

“It is like my nervous system and muscles react to the coming weather and finally I get pain that feels like the tops of both my feet are being crushed,” she said in an email to PNN. “I have compression of the spinal cord with nerve damage to my nerves from the scar tissue and when the weather changes the scar tissue presses down against the damaged nerves.”

Researchers at the University of Manchester recently ended a study involving thousands of people who used smartphone apps to report their pain levels, giving investigators the ability to compare the pain data with real-time local weather. Researchers are now analyzing the database compiled over the last 15 months and will release their results next spring.

Experts Say Weather’s Not to Blame for Your Pain

By Pat Anson, Editor

The age old debate over weather’s impact on pain is heating up again with new research indicating that cold, rainy weather has no impact on symptoms associated with back pain or osteoarthritis.

Researchers at The George Institute for Global Health in Australia say damp weather makes people more aware of their pain, but the symptoms disappear as soon as the sun comes out – suggesting there’s a psychological cause.

“Human beings are very susceptible so it’s easy to see why we might only take note of pain on the days when it’s cold and rainy outside, but discount the days when they have symptoms but the weather is mild and sunny,” said Professor Chris Maher, director of the George Institute’s Musculoskeletal Division.  

“The belief that pain and inclement weather are linked dates back to Roman times. But our research suggests this belief may be based on the fact that people recall events that confirm their pre-existing views.”

Maher and his colleagues conducted two studies involving nearly 1,000 Australians with back pain and 345 people with osteoarthritis.

Using weather data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, researchers compared the weather at the time patients first noticed pain with weather conditions one week and one month before the onset of pain as a control measure. 

Results showed no association between back pain and temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind direction or precipitation. Warmer temperatures did slightly increase the chances of lower back pain, but the amount of the increase was not clinically important. 

A previous study on back pain and weather at The George Institute had similar findings, but received widespread criticism from the public.

“People were adamant that adverse weather conditions worsened their symptoms so we decided to go ahead with a new study based on data from new patients with both lower back pain and osteoarthritis. The results though were almost exactly the same – there is absolutely no link between pain and the weather in these conditions,” said Maher.

The back pain study was published in the journal Pain Medicine. The study on osteoarthritis was published in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage.

“People who suffer from either of these conditions should not focus on the weather as it does not have an important influence on your symptoms and it is outside your control,” said Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira.

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.

PNN readers say there’s little doubt in their minds that there’s a connection.

“I totally agree that rainy weather does affect pain. I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and pain is most severe when there is a change happening in the weather especially rain,” wrote Dee.

“It's been well established that the source of weather-related pain is a direct result from the variance in barometric pressure,” said Judith Bohr. “Changes in the intensity of that pressure is felt more acutely in the parts of the body where there are injuries, degenerative changes, surgeries, wherever there is an increased sensitivity because of inflammation.”

Others say they can predict the weather based on their pain levels.

“So many sunny days and I've said it’s going to rain. People thought I was crazy for a while, but now they know,” said Ashley. “My kids are always asking if it’s going to rain.”

A study currently underway in England suggests there is a connection between weather and pain. Over 9,000 people are participating in The University of Manchester’s Cloudy with a Chance of Pain project, using a special app on their smartphones to record their daily pain levels. The app also captures hourly weather conditions.

Preliminary results show that as the number of sunny days increase, the amount of time participants spend in severe pain decreases. When the weather turns rainy and cloudy, however, the amount of time people spent in severe pain increases.

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.

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: