Smartphone Study Shows Humid Days Make Pain Feel Worse
Thu, April 22, 2021

Smartphone Study Shows Humid Days Make Pain Feel Worse

A smartphone study shows a connection between humid days and increasing chronic pain / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Damp and windy days will likely bring more discomfort to people with chronic pain conditions. researchers from the University of Manchester (UoM) found. The research, titled "Cloudy with a Chance of Pain," said high relative humidity is the key factor associated with the intensified pain felt by people with conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and neuropathic pain.

Researchers based the study on the experience of over 13,000 people with pain conditions across the UK. They used a smartphone app developed by the healthcare software company uMotif, with funding from UK charity Versus Arthritis.


A common health problem

Chronic pain is a common global health problem that affects 20.5 percent (over 1.5 billion) of the world population. According to Pathways, an app company that helps relieve pain, chronic pain is most prevalent in China where nearly 40 percent of its population (501 million) experience ongoing discomfort.

The UK, where the study was conducted, has around 28 million citizens suffering from chronic pain lasting three months or longer—eight million of whom have pain that is reportedly moderate to severely disabling. Back pain is among the most common and accounts for 40 percent of sickness absence costing the UK economy £10 billion, data from the British Pain Society showed.

Meanwhile, arthritis affects 10 million people with over half experiencing life-altering pain every day.



Weather is believed to affect the pain people with such conditions experience, with many reports claiming that hot and cold temperatures intensify the discomfort.

"Around three-quarters of people living with arthritis believe their pain is affected by the weather," study leader Will Dixon said in a press release. "Yet despite much research examining the existence and nature of this relationship, there remains no scientific consensus."

UoM researchers and their collaborators conducted the 15-month study of over 13,000 UK residents to understand which weather conditions affect pain the most.


Intensified pain on humid days

The researchers recruited participants online, checking their eligibility and having them download an app on their smartphone. A total of 13,207 people downloaded the app but, for analysis, the researchers used data from 2,658 participants.

"This figure was lower because the analysis could only include people who had at least one time where they had a meaningful increase in their pain and where that could be paired with a time within the same month when their pain didn't increase," the researchers explained.

Participants were asked to rate 10 items on the app every day and, using their phones' GPS function, they were tracked so that the researchers were able to match their location to their area's weather data.

They found that on days when the weather is humid, the odds of a pain event would increase by 20 percent compared to a normal day. While it is "statistically modest," the researchers said the increased risk could still be meaningful for people with chronic pain.



"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," Dixon explained.

Results also show low pressure and higher wind speed were associated with more painful days, but to a lesser extent compared to humidity.

Dixon said the results of their study could help them develop a pain forecast after establishing the relationship between weather and pain. This would allow people living with chronic pain to plan their errands, he added.

"The dataset will also provide information to scientists interested in understanding the mechanisms of pain, which could ultimately open the door to new treatments," the lead researcher continued.


Association of other factors

When averaged across the sampled population, the researchers did not find any statistical association between pain and temperature. This evidence debunks the idea that temperature can influence the discomfort that people experience—but the researchers "wouldn't discount people's experiences."

"It's possible to have more pain on a cold day or a warm day depending on what's happening with other weather components," they explained.

"For example, cold days could be more painful if they were also damp and windy. We know that days with [a] low pressure are also windy and humid, and are often associated with cold air. So, this association might explain the association between cold and pain."

The researchers added that their analysis disentangled the relative importance of key weather factors. Their findings might suggest that the cold is linked to other components that are the primary mechanisms for why pain increases during cold weather.


Chronic pain affects numerous people worldwide / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


"It is possible that individuals have a different association from the average, and thus some people feel these results do not match their experience. Future analyses hope to explore different patterns of weather-pain relationship in more detail," they stated.

Chronic pain is more than just the discomfort that a person feels. It is an experience that can greatly affect their work, family life, and even their mental health. People with chronic pain conditions still experience pain even when they follow the best advice their physicians give—especially if it involves the weather.

So, the results of the study are significant to them as these findings may help them plan out their activities more efficiently. For instance, people experiencing chronic pain can opt to finish their heavy tasks on days predicted to have lower pain levels.