Does feeling pain mean it’s going to rain?

Posted at 2:30 PM, Sep 19, 2016

Maybe your grandfather always said his body could predict the weather better than the TV weatherman. Maybe you’ve noticed how your old sports injury seems to act up whenever it rains.

But is there any truth to these long-held beliefs?

Researchers in the United Kingdom are trying to find out.

Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Preliminary findings from a new research project suggest a link between weather conditions — rain and lack of sunshine, in particular — and chronic pain.

More than 9,000 participants in a UK study have been tracking their daily pain using a smartphone app as part of a project called “Cloudy with a Chance of Pain.” The app captures real-time weather conditions nearby using GPS and pairs them with the self-reported pain data.

The results haven’t been published. But as the sunny days increased across London, Leeds and Norwich earlier this year, the amount of time that study participants felt severe pain decreased. Their pain increased again in June, when the weather turned wetter and there were fewer hours of sunshine.

Researchers are seeking more people to join the project. To take part, you must be at least 17 and live in the UK, have a smartphone and have arthritis or other chronic pain.

“Once the link is proven, people will have the confidence to plan their activities in accordance with the weather,” said Will Dixon, professor of digital epidemiology at the University of Manchester’s School of Biological Sciences and the scientific lead for the project. “In addition, understanding how weather influences pain will allow medical researchers to explore new pain interventions and treatments.”

Older research concurs

This isn’t the first study on the relation between chronic pain and the weather that has used technology to help find a correlation. An Internet-based study, published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007, concluded that changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature are independently associated with osteoarthritis knee-pain severity.

The results from the US-based study complements the preliminary research from the current study. But there are some fundamental differences between the two.

The current study is using data collected from all four seasons from over 12,000 participants. The earlier survey collected data for only three months, from 200 people.

To prevent bias, participants in the US study were not told researchers would be comparing their pain data with weather updates from the closest meteorological reporting station. But participants in the UK study know exactly what its primary purpose is. The name of the project itself gives it away.

“We know that mood plays an important role in the relationship between weather and pain, so we will be looking at this in the final analysis,” said Louise Cook, the project manager for Cloudy with a Chance of Pain. “The app asks participants to record a range of factors which may impact on their pain, such as mood, well-being, sleep quality, exercise and time spent outdoors, so we can account for these.”

The app also accounts for participants who have chronic pain and take medication. According to Cook, when they log into the app for the first time, they are asked a series of questions, one of which is whether they take medications for their pain. During the study, there is also a diary function in the app that allows participants to record anything they think is relevant to their pain levels.

So is it time to give up on a weather app and rely on your grandfather’s arthritis to tell you it’s raining outside? Probably not.

But if this new research proves such a link to be true, you might be able to predict when your chronic pain is going to flare up. That is, if the weather forecast is correct.