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Does Bad Weather Really Worsen Patients’ Pain?

The next time patients express concern to you that their joints act up during troublesome weather, don’t dismiss them

he next time patients express concern that their joints act up during troublesome weather, don’t dismiss them. According to a new study, individuals with long-term health conditions are 20% more likely to feel pain during humid and windy weather when the atmospheric pressure is low. When it comes to weather, high relative humidity is the strongest predictor of increased pain, researchers from the University of Manchester have learned. Study participants were least likely to experience pain on dry days.

What Did the Study Find?

“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%,” said lead study author Will Dixon, Ph.D., in a statement. “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.”

To come to this conclusion, researchers recruited more than 13,000 patients who have arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and neuropathic pain across the UK. They recorded their daily symptoms with a smartphone app, and the local weather info came from the phone’s GPS. Some 2,600 participants contributed relevant data for six months.

The findings addressing humidity weren’t the only takeaway. Old wives’ tales sometimes assume a link between pain and outside temperature, but this research did not find any association. Cold days were only more painful if they were also damp and windy. Rainfall on its own was not linked to pain. Researchers also addressed the possibility that weather can affect mood, which, in turn, can affect pain. 

What the Study Means for Clinicians

The researchers note that understanding the connection between pain and weather is important because it validates the perception of individuals who believe their symptoms are associated with weather. Some 75% of people who live with arthritis feel that weather affects their pain, according to Dr. Dixon. Moreover, this research paves the way for pain forecasts based on weather. For example, patients can plan to complete more challenging activities on days when they will be experiencing less pain.

“Supporting effective ways of self-managing pain can make all the difference for people with arthritis, helping them to get and stay in work, to be full members of the community and simply to belong,” explained Stephen Simpson, Ph.D., director of research at Versus Arthritis, which funded the study.

Last, the authors hope the study opens the doors for more research into “the mechanisms for pain and thus allow the development of new and more effective interventions for those who suffer with pain.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60% of Americans live with at least one chronic disease, such as stroke, cancer, or diabetes. In addition, in 2016, some 20% of US adults, about 50 million, suffered from chronic pain, and 8% of US adults also experienced high-impact chronic pain.

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