Whatever the cause of your chronic pain, you are highly likely to notice that the level of your pain fluctuates with the weather. Indeed, many sufferers describe themselves as ‘human barometers’, able to accurately predict forthcoming changes, often several hours in advance.
In earlier articles we have described people’s experiences in extremes of both heat and cold, and Libby Parfitt’s article on tips for surviving cold weather remains ever popular. Now, however, a new study on weather-related fluctuations in pain has been published by the University of Manchester, the results of which you may find surprising.
The study, ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Pain’, analysed information from 2,658 people recruited from across the UK, who provided daily data for between one and fifteen months via a smartphone app. While they recorded their symptoms, the app noted the weather at their location. The participants were drawn from people suffering a wide range of pain-inducing conditions including arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine and neuropathic pain.
Unexpectedly, the highest levels of pain were recorded on humid days, with dry days the least likely to be painful. Also, there was a correlation between more painful days and both higher wind speed and lower pressure, but less so than for humidity.
Perhaps the greatest surprise was that no statistically significant link was observed between levels of pain and temperature, although cold days which were also windy and damp were more painful for many participants.
Difficult to accept
Understandably, many people have come to fear seasonal changes and for those with first hand experience of temperature-related pain flares, these results will be difficult to accept.
One possible explanation is that the study included people suffering a large variety of conditions. If the study were repeated for individual conditions, might the weather-related triggers for each vary considerably?
Certainly, for conditions such as CRPS and Fibromyalgia, the anecdotal evidence for a link between levels of pain and extremes of temperature remains overwhelming.