People who suffer from chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, have long reported a link between the weather and their pain. In fact, ancient Greek physician Hippocrates – known as “the father of modern medicine” -- noticed a connection between pain and the weather as far back as 2500 years ago.
While there’s a plethora of anecdotal evidence for these claims, the weather-pain connection is often dismissed as nothing more than an old wives’ tale. That’s because there’s been a lack of actual scientific research confirming the link – until now.
Funded by Versus Arthritis (previously Arthritis Research UK), researchers at the University of Manchester undertook a mammoth study of over 2600 people and monitored their pain and the weather conditions over 15 months. The study, Cloudy with a Chance of Pain, aimed to finally answer the question: does the weather affect chronic pain?
What did the study find?
The study confirmed what people with chronic pain know all too well: the weather does affect pain. It also discovered that the biggest culprit was humidity.
Higher humidity, lower pressure, and stronger winds – in that order – were strongly associated with increased pain.
A rise in humidity increased the chances of participants having a painful day by 20%. We suspect that this happens mainly because of the fluid that lubricates your joints. In warm, humid weather, the properties of the fluid change, which increases inflammation in your joints and causes pain. Humidity can also make you feel sluggish and lethargic, and the resulting inactivity can lead to stiffness and, of course, more pain.
So what can I do about it?
Well, you can’t control the weather! What you can do, though, is take steps to minimise the effect it has on your pain. Here are our top tips for battling the humidity.
Versus Arthritis suggests monitoring the weather forecast so you can be prepared. You can do this using the Weather Flare app, which will send you notifications about upcoming weather conditions that might affect you. When you know which days will be better or worse for your pain, you can plan ahead and minimise the impact.
Do some gentle exercises, such as stretching or yoga. Even on the toughest days, some light movement and activity is really important to keep pain under control. Just be sure not to overexert yourself!
Keep cool, stay indoors or in the shade when it’s particularly humid, and wear natural, loose fabrics.
Try to lower your salt intake. Salt makes your body retain extra water, and fluid retention can make your joints stiffer.
Stay hydrated. Humidity is likely to make you sweat more, so keep a bottle of water on hand and sip throughout the day.
Cool down with ice packs or showers. If you use ice, wrap it in a tea towel or clean cloth first so it doesn’t damage your skin.
Gentle swimming can also cool you down, and it’s a great low-impact exercise for your joints.
Try to spend a small amount of time (even just ten minutes a day) in sunlight. Vitamin D is really important for keeping your bones and muscles healthy and your immune system strong. But remember that some medications can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so slap on some sunscreen and be careful not to burn!
We’ve long known that the weather can affect your pain, and we’ve designed Weather Flare to help you take back control. If you’ve been struggling with weather-related pain flare-ups, we hope you find some comfort in the fact that there’s now scientific proof and effective ways you can fight back.
We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the Weather Flare app, and would love your feedback on how we can make it even better for you. Download it on iOS and Android now and let us know what you think!
Help us crowdfund to finish building the Weather Flare app. The finished version will learn how the weather is affecting the user’s condition/s and produce a personalised weather forecast showing good, bearable and tricky days. https://igg.me/at/weatherflare/x#/