"Cloudy with a chance of Pain"


I recently spent some time with my family in the UK. While at a family get together, my 72 year old step mother mentioned how quickly the weather was cooling down and that autumn was well and truly underway. She mentioned to me that when the weather is cold and damp, she suffers more with her joint pain/osteoarthritis (OA). This was reiterated by my 92 year old auntie who also mentioned feeling more stiff and sore in the colder months.


As a practicing physiotherapist I am regularly updating my skills and knowledge with regards to medical and therapeutic research and I explained to them both that there was actually no evidence that proves when the weather is colder or damper people suffer more from their joint pain symptoms however, it is something that is often stated by those suffering with joint pain.


Following my return to Australia, my brother (also present at the family get together) sent me this article he noticed on the BBC News app.


'People 'more likely to feel pain on humid days'

How the weather influences pain

Up to three quarters of people say that painful conditions like arthritis get worse when the weather is turning damp and cold. But up until now it’s been hard to prove they are right. A new study from Manchester in the UK involved people tracking people’s daily pain using an app. This information was linked with local weather conditions and high humidity was found to increase pain levels the most."


Information for this article was obtained from the study

Cloudy with a chance of Pain, Reade et al. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (http://mhealth.jmir.org), 24.03.2017. https://mhealth.jmir.org/2017/3/e37/pdf


Many people state that they are more stiff, have more pain in the colder and wetter months of the year. But, is there any evidence that this phenomenon is real? And is this new study proving or disproving the facts?


Recent studies have shown no correlation to cold, damp weather and increased pain or stiffness despite hearsay. So what is this "new" evidence that seems to say otherwise?


Looking deeper into the article the objective states that this particular study was devised to "co-design a smart phone app to assess associations between weather and joint pain patterns in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and to study the success of self reported data entry over a 60 day period and the enablers and barriers to data collection".


So,

  • a study to design an app

  • small sample size, only 20 participants

  • patients were suffering RA not OA

  • a short research period, 60 day period

  • participants knew what the study was for and the reasons why they were being studied (therefore, low quality research)


The method shows there were 20 participants, 6 of which withdrew from the study prior to its completion. 14 completed the study. This number of participants is very small and is not representative of the general population.


The average (mean) completion rate for data entry was 65% over the 2 months. The authors explain the reasons for non compliance to regular data entry. This is relevant to the objective of the study, where the authors are aiming to design a user friendly app, but the low percentage adds little to proving the correlation between weather and joint pain.


The authors conclude that this study was a successful pilot and demonstrates the feasibility of data collection using smart phones and it "opens important opportunities for large-scale, longitudinal epidemiological research".


Does this article, available to read in the BBC News app, provide an objective conclusion to the question of the weather affecting joint pain? I'll let you decide.


The long lasting debate over cold/hot, wet/damp weather and increases in pain continues however, just think, when you jump into the ocean or pool much cooler than the daily temperature and wetter than the ambient humidity here in Australia, does your pain change?


Something to think about.


By Kate Watkins (Physiotherapist), MPhysio, BExSSc, APAM,

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