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"Cloudy" research suggests rainfall and sunshine may affect chronic pain

Published on 25 November 2016
Source: Arthritis Today
Arthritis Today Winter 2016, No 171

A man wearing a a coat blowing on his hands in cold weatherEarlier this year we told you about an innovative national study asking people with arthritis to use smartphone technology to track their daily symptoms to help scientists investigate the link between chronic pain and the weather.

More than 12,000 people are now using the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain app to share their everyday experiences of pain with researchers at The University of Manchester. Three and a half million pieces of data have been generated for the research team to analyse, alongside extensive weather data.

The results gathered during the first six months of the study make interesting reading for anyone who has ever looked at the weather forecast and wondered ‘is this going to be a bad day?’.

Interesting trends in weather and pain levels

Interim data collected from people living in three cities – Leeds, Norwich and London – shows as the temperature increased from February to April, the amount of time spent in severe pain decreased. However, despite the weather getting warmer still in June, the amount of time people spent in chronic pain increased again. From April to June, the weather was also wetter and there were fewer hours of sunshine."We’re seeing interesting trends suggesting rainfall and lack of sunshine may be associated with levels of pain."Professor Will Dixon

Professor Will Dixon, scientific lead for the Cloudy project, says: "These are very preliminary findings, but we’re already seeing interesting trends suggesting both rainfall and lack of sunshine may be associated with levels of pain. We’re looking forward to delving deeper into the data over the next few months.

"We think there’s something there, but we need your help to get to the bottom of it!"

Get involved

Researchers are urging more people with arthritis to track their symptoms via the smartphone app, particularly over the winter months. The Cloudy with a Chance of Pain study is recruiting until January 2017 and will collect data until next April.

Professor Dixon says: "If you're affected by chronic pain, this is your chance to do something personally which could lead to a breakthrough in our understanding of pain. Once the link is proven, and we understand what within the weather influences pain, we hope people will be better able to plan their daily lives in line with the weather."

By signing up today and sharing your everyday experiences you can help to shape the big ideas that could push back the limits of arthritis.

We asked Dr Tom Margham for a GP’s view of the link between arthritis and cold weather. He says: "Many of my patients report that changes in the weather affect the level of pain they feel. Several explanations have been suggested to account for the effects of damp, cold and hot weather conditions on pain.

"Changes in temperature and humidity may influence the expansion and contraction of different tissues in the affected joint, which may cause pain. It could be that low temperatures increase the stickiness of synovial fluid which lubricates our joints, thereby making joints stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain.

"Another line of thinking is that weather affects mood, resulting in an alteration of pain perception, though this idea isn't supported by current research.

"However, arthritis and musculoskeletal pain occur in all climates, and although the weather may affect the symptoms of your arthritis or the way you feel, it won’t cause the condition or affect the way it develops.

"My advice for people facing a cold winter with arthritis is pretty straightforward. Firstly, do what you can to keep warm, dress in warm clothes and wear plenty of layers that trap the heat. Secondly, keep moving. A cold spell might give a perfect excuse to stay indoors, rather than go for a walk or to an exercise class, but regular exercise improves your blood flow and keeping active on a cold day will help you to stay warm."

Read next: Could the answer to tackling the pain of osteoarthritis be hiding in caterpillar fungus?

A gloved hand holding a petri dish containing caterpillar fungus

Scientists at The University of Nottingham are investigating if the compound cordycepin, found in parasitic fungi living on caterpillars, could be used as a painkiller for osteoarthritis.

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