It is a commonly reported phenomenon that changes in the weather can influence the intensity of chronic aches and pains that patients suffer from. Yet despite this being noted as far back as 2,000 years ago, it has often been overlooked and dismissed. However, the preliminary findings of a new study investigating this link has found that there may actually be some truth to it.
The Cloudy With a Chance of Pain project has enlisted over 9,000 people across three cities in England who suffer from chronic pain to log their symptoms daily using a smartphone app. This data has then been combined with what the weather was like at the same time, allowing the researchers to compare how much pain the participants were feeling during certain climate conditions.
While the current project is only halfway through its official run, the researchers decided to report their preliminary results at the British Science Festival. They found that as the number of sunny days increased from February to April, those who reported feeling chronic pain decreased; when another wet front rolled in during June, however, participants reported an increase in symptoms.
While it is entirely possible that longer days in the sun may simply make people feel better, and thus could influence whether they feel pain or not, the study records the participants' moods in an attempt to account for this.
What may be behind the reported link between pain and these spells of wet weather is still unknown. Some of the participants believe that it is not just the damp but also the cold that makes the pain worse, yet considering that the reported pain increased in the month of June, the cold aspect may actually be more of a myth. Lead researcher Will Dixon, a rheumatologist and professor of digital epidemiology at the University of Manchester, thinks it makes sense that a change in pressure associated with the wetter weather influences pain levels.
“In terms of physiology, I think it makes most sense that it would be pressure that would influence pain, particularly in arthritis," Professor Dixon told The Independent. "A high proportion of patients believe they can predict the weather based on their symptoms. In order for them to do that, there must be something in the weather that influences their pain and the weather that is coming. Pressure may change the sensitivity to pain, but I think there's likely to be sub-groups of patients who have different relationships.”
The scientists hope to enlist further volunteers to take part in the study via the app and to keep collecting data until April of next year.