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31st October 2019

UoM study finds possible link between higher pain levels and humid weather

New research suggests that people with long term health conditions are 20 percent more likely to suffer from higher pain levels on humid and windy days with low atmospheric pressure
UoM study finds possible link between higher pain levels and humid weather
Photo: Vinoth Chandar @ Flickr

A new study at the University of Manchester suggests that people suffering from long-term health conditions are 20 per cent more likely to be influenced by pain on humid days with windy weather and low atmospheric pressure.

‘Cloudy with a Chance of Pain’ published in Nature, and funded by Versus Arthritis, illustrates that the key factor leading to an increased level of pain is high relative to humidity.

The research project which trialled throughout 2017, recruited over 13,000 people over the UK who suffer from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine and neuropathic pain. The participates were asked to record their daily symptoms using a smartphone app developed by uMotif, a healthcare software company, while the local weather was provided by the smartphone’s GPS location data. The researchers then analysed the data from 2,658 participants with various health issues, but mainly arthritis, who provided daily data for approximately six months.

Based on the findings of this study, humid days were the most painful, whilst dry days were the least likely to be painful. Low atmospheric pressure and higher wind speed, although less influential than humidity, were also two key factors associated with high pain levels.

In addition to this, the results indicated that despite many people’s belief, there is no noticeable correlation between the temperature and pain levels when it comes to average levels across the whole population. However, cold days that were humid and windy were suggested to still be more painful. Also, no association was found between rainfall and pain.

On a separate note, although weather is known to influence the pain by affecting the mood of individuals, this pathway is not what explains the findings. What is emphasised by this study is the link between the weather and pain level.

Professor Will Dixon, the lead researcher and author of the study, stated: “Around three quarters of people living with arthritis believe their pain is affected by the weather. Yet despite much research examining the existence and nature of this relationship, there remains no scientific consensus.

“The analysis showed that on damp and windy days with low pressure the chances of experiencing more pain, compared to an average day, was around 20%. This would mean that, if your chances of a painful day on an average weather day were 5 in 100, they would increase to 6 in 100 on a damp and windy day.

“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. The dataset will also provide information to scientists interested in understanding the mechanisms of pain, which could ultimately open the door to new treatments.”

One of the participants of this study, Carolyn Gamble, suffering from a specific form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, said: “So many people live with chronic pain, 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.

“Knowing how the weather impacts on our pain can enable us to accept that the pain is out of our control, it is not something we have done, or could have done differently in our own self-management.”

Regarding this study, Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, also added:” We know that of the 10 million people in the UK with arthritis, over half experience life-altering pain every day. But our healthcare system is simply not geared up to effectively help people with arthritis with their number one concern.

“Will Dixon, his team and their collaborators have shown a remarkable spirit of innovation, pushing new boundaries to bring people with arthritis into research. This research will help us understand the bigger picture of the complexity of pain caused by arthritis and how people with the condition can take control of it.”

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