Cloudy with a chance of pain

One day you may have personalised pain forecasts…

A red sky full of pink and grey clouds
Image by Cindy Eyler from Pixabay

Very many people suffering from diseases like arthritis think that the weather affects the pain they feel. Many dread the coming of Autumn, for example, as they know their lives will get worse in the cold and wet weather. Others have found that trips to warmer countries have helped reduce their suffering from pain. Doctors have long been sceptical of these claims as there has been little evidence to support it, but then there have only been a few small-scale studies investigating it. It also isn’t helped by the fact that different people believe different weather affects them and in different ways: some like it hot, some like it cold, some feel they suffer most when the rain comes…

A team from the University of Manchester realised that they could use crowd-sourced science, where members of the public collect data on their phones, to do a massive experiment to find out the truth. 13,000 people suffering from long-term pain took part, recording how much pain they were in every day for over a year. Their phones recorded their location and linked it to the local weather at the time. This gave the researchers millions of reports of pain to analyse against the specific weather that person was actually experiencing at the time.It gave the researchers millions of reports of pain to analyse.

So who was right: the doctors or the patients? Well, actually many of the patients were right as the weather did affect the amount of pain they personally felt. Especially problematic were days when the humidity was high, the air pressure was low, or the wind was very strong (in that order).

These results mean clinicians can now start to take the weather seriously. It may also be possible to create pain forecast programs for people affected, based on their local weather reports. It also opens up new areas to study to understand the causes of pain and so find new ways to alleviate it.

So, if you are unlucky to suffer from chronic pain, it could be your phone that, one day, might be warning you that tomorrow will be cloudy with a chance of pain.

Visit the Cloudy with a Chance of Pain project website

– Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London, Spring 2021

Download Issue 27 of the cs4fn magazine on Smart Health here.

This post and issue 27 of the cs4fn magazine have been funded by EPSRC as part of the PAMBAYESIAN project.

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