Higher humidity, lower air pressure, and stronger winds were significantly linked with an increase in pain in people with fibromyalgia and other causes of chronic pain, but changes in temperature and rainfall were not.
These are the results of a large-scale survey of people across the United Kingdom (UK) — done using Smartphone technology — with chronic pain linked to fibromyalgia, arthritis, and migraines, among other ills.
Survey results were published in Nature: Digital Medicine, in the study “How the weather affects the pain of citizen scientists using a smartphone app.”
An association between weather and pain has been a long-standing issue with many people. But while some report worsening pain symptoms with higher temperatures, others report more pain with colder and wet weather.
Consequently, studies have not been able to find a conclusive answer to what types of weather most affect pain. Many of these studies are small, track weather for short periods, or have not recorded the weather in an area where people live and work.
To better understand the link between weather and pain, a group of researchers at the University of Manchester designed a study — called Cloudy with a Chance of Pain — using Smartphone technology that allowed thousands of people to record their daily pain experience in real-time.
The Smartphone application (app), developed by the healthcare software company uMotif, used a graphical interface with 10 categories that recorded pain severity, fatigue, morning stiffness, the impact of pain, sleep quality, time spent outside, waking up feeling tired, physical activity, mood, and overall well-being.
The levels of pain were recorded using a slider that measured along a five-option scale: no pain, mild pain, moderate pain, severe pain, or very severe pain.
The participants’ locations — and local weather conditions — were determined by global positioning satellite (GPS).
Of the 13,207 apps that were downloaded, a final total of 2,658 participants were included in the analysis. They came from across all postal districts in the U.K. — and entered data daily for around six months. Among these people, 83% were women, with an average age of 51 years.
People with fibromyalgia or chronic widespread pain accounted for 25% of the study participants.
The analysis specifically compared the weather on a day during which a person experienced a meaningful increase in pain with the weather on days the individual did not have an increase in pain. This method only compared pain by the individual — and not between people — as different people can experience pain differently.
Based on the analysis, high relative humidity was the most important factor linked to worsening pain.
Increases in pain also were associated — but to a lesser extent than humidity — with low barometric air pressure and high wind speed.
Interestingly, temperature and rainfall were not found to be associated with increased pain, although higher pain was reported on cold days that were damp and windy. Such weather is caused by high humidity and low pressure, not temperature.
Overall, on damp, windy, and low-pressure days, “the ‘worst’ combination of weather variables would increase the odds of a pain event by just over 20% compared to an average day,” the researchers said.
Dry, calm days with high pressure were least likely to be associated with increased pain, the results showed.
Additional analysis showed that mood was more strongly linked to pain than weather. However, even though the weather can affect mood, when mood was accounted for in the study, the identified association between weather and pain remained.
The weather-pain association also remained regardless of high or low physical activity.
“The results of this study could be important for patients in the future for two reasons. Given we can forecast the weather, it may be possible to develop a pain forecast knowing the relationship between weather and pain. This would allow people who suffer from chronic pain to plan their activities, completing harder tasks on days predicted to have lower levels of pain,” William Dixon, PhD, professor at the Centre for Epidemiology Versus Arthritis at the University of Manchester and study lead author, said in a press release.
“The dataset will also provide information to scientists interested in understanding the mechanisms of pain, which could ultimately open the door to new treatments,” Dixon added.
For more details on the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain study, or to participate in the data analysis, click here.
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