Credit: Thinkstock People who suffer with arthritis can often tell if rain is imminent. They may experience increased joint pain as the weather is changing and pain levels can act as a type of internal barometer. Early results from a new study in the UK suggest that rain or lack of sunlit days correlate to changes in pain levels.
The University of Manchester-based study is only halfway through its full 18-month research effort, but the results are compelling. The study involves a special app that subjects living with long-term chronic pain download and use to chart daily pain symptoms. The app simultaneously charts hourly weather conditions, using GPS technology. The pain reports are correlated to the weather reports in real time.
Preliminary findings from data collected from subjects in three cities in the UK — Leeds, Norwich, and London — found that as the number of sunny days increased, during February to April, the amount of time that the subjects spent feeling pain decreased. When the weather was wetter and there were fewer days of sunshine, duration and frequency of pain increased.
The researchers want more subjects from the three cities to log on and participate, and the full duration of the research will need to wrap up before they offer definitive results and conclusions. However, if the initial research results persist, the findings suggest that people with chronic pain should think about planning their activities in accordance with seasons and weather periods, so that they avoid physical activity during rainy, gloomy periods, if possible.
The researchers also hope to further investigate just how weather affects levels of pain, which might help with the development of new medical pain interventions and therapies.
(If you go to the Arthritis Foundation’s website, you can enter your zip code to predict joint-pain level based on predicted and current local weather, so this science is not entirely new. See a 2007 Tufts University study that found that changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature influence arthritis pain.)
So where are the best and worst places to live if you suffer with chronic pain from arthritis? New York City has over 500 rheumatologists practicing in the area — but months of cold weather and rain in the Northeast can instigate higher levels of pain. Yuma, Arizona, on the other hand, is the sunniest spot in the U.S.
Before you run to Arizona, though, consider this: Individuals who suffer with chronic pain are often more susceptible to changes in weather than they are to constant “bad” weather itself. A New York Times (NYT) column reported that chronic pain sufferers who live in humid Nashville were less likely to be affected by weather changes despite the “wet nature” of the weather. Other findings from the study cited in the NYT included:
- Younger patients were more sensitive to weather changes.
- Sudden cold, damp weather was a bigger instigator of joint pain compared to a steady climate of cold, damp weather.
- Weather “changes” were the biggest concern.
- Barometric pressure changes, which precede actual wet weather change, were implicated as the most likely pain instigators.
- Pain usually comes (or increases) before the weather actually shifts.
The rainiest cities in the U.S. in 2016 included:
- Hilo, Hawaii - 156.79 average inches of rainfall
- Maple Valley, Washington - 85.73 average inches of rainfall
- Marrero, Louisiana - 67.26 average inches of rainfall
- Corvallis, Oregon - 65.9 average inches of rainfall
- Pascagoula, Mississippi - 65.4 average inches of rainfall
- Mobile, Alabama - 65.28 average inches of rainfall
Driest cities in the U.S. included:
- Las Vegas, Nevada - 4.17 average inches of rainfall
- Phoenix, Arizona - 8.04 average inches of rainfall
- Riverside, California - 10.32 average inches of rainfall
- Denver, Colorado - 15.54 average inches of rainfall
- Salt Lake City, Utah - 16.5 average inches of rainfall
Fodor’s Travel has a robust online forum that discusses “best places to live with arthritis,” and by far “the hot desert” is one of the most popular locations identified by individuals who live with the chronic pain of arthritis. Still, any place you live will likely have rain days, so you will have to cope with both barometric changes and rain at some point during the year. If possible, avoid living or vacationing in locations with volatile weather patterns or lots of intermittent rainy or very cold periods. Have a plan in place to address heightened pain with adequate pain control medication, and consider supportive measures like warm water therapy and a gentle stretching program, among other treatment options.
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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she’s been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments