Cloudy with a chance of pain

Researchers are trying to prove the link between pain and weather conditions



Twenty four centuries ago in ancient Greece it was Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, who first suggested that pain and the weather were somehow linked.

It’s been a theme of medical understanding ever since and is reflected in the late medieval belief that great events on earth were reflected in the heavens.

Perhaps the most celebrated depiction of this is Shakespeare’s theatrical images of madness in King Lear where a raging storm directly reflects the disturbance in the mind of the king.

With advent of the Age of Reason, of course, such notions were dismissed as fanciful.

In an age of scientific measurement and empirical analysis how could anyone prove that such an intangible link was anything more than folklore?

Yet generations of arthritis, rheumatism and other sufferers from chronic pain conditions have claimed to know when the weather is changing because they feel it in their bones.

Now a team from Manchester University is trying to combine the rigours of empirical and scientific observation with personal experience and anecdotal evidence using communications technology.

They have called the exercise “Cloudy With A Chance Of Pain”.

Over 9,000 people, all of whom suffer from a condition that gives them constant pain, have participated in the study by recoding the severity of their symptoms daily on a smartphone app.

The app also records the time of day and the weather conditions for future analysis.

Although only half way through their 18 month programme, the researchers are already seeing a pattern confirming what our elderly relatives knew all along.

On sunny days pain is reduced compared to dark wintry days and is at its worst in cloudy and rainy weather conditions.

The exact nature of any causal link is unknown, but the most credible explanation is that it is changes in barometric pressures, which fluctuate as weather fronts change, causing the fluids in the body to shift.

Whatever the reason, the researchers hope to be able to gather enough data to statistically map the effect and develop the ability to forecast the possible effects of the weather on pain sufferers.

Ultimately it might be included in the weather forecast, like a pollen count.

There are over 28 million people in the UK alone who live with chronic pain.

The opportunity to prepare or take some action to manage the pain during conditions that aggravate it can only be a benefit.

On another level scientists believe that finally discovering the link will mean a big step forward in the understanding of pain itself.


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