Thursday, July 15, 2010

Does the Weather Really Affect Pain?

Briefly NotedTraditional wisdom says that aches and pains flare up on cold, damp, dreary days. Now, research has confirmed this is the case and there are seasonal variations as well, whether for ‘any pain’ or chronic widespread pain.

Between January 2005 and December 2006, 2,491 persons in Northwest England completed questionnaires that enquired about pain — either ‘any pain,’ assumed to be more temporary and/or localized, or chronic widespread pain (CWP) — as well as about potential mediating factors such as sleep quality, exercise, and mood. Researchers were able to determine information on sunshine, precipitation, air temperature, and pressure at the time each questionnaire was completed.

More than 4 in 10 subjects (42%) reported ‘any pain’ and 15% had CWP on the day of completion. For both types of pain, the prevalence was greatest in winter, followed by autumn, then spring, and lowest in summer. Participants were less likely to report pain on days with more than 5.8 hours of sunshine and with average temperature of >17.5° C (>63.5° F). These relationships were partly explained by subjects reporting taking more exercise and having better sleep quality and a more positive mood on days with sunshine and higher temperatures; however, the authors were cautious to observe that pain is not an inevitable consequence of climatic conditions.

NOTE: We have previously commented extensively on the influence of vitamin D deficiency in various pain conditions [blogpost series here]. Prior research has demonstrated that vitamin D levels are most deficient during cold-weather months, and they increase during warmer months when the Sun’s UVB rays are strongest and weather is conducive to outside activities; thereby facilitating both natural vitamin D production in the skin from sunshine and healthful exercise. However, for various reasons, vitamin D deficiencies are still endemic in many populations independently of climate or geographic locale.

REFERENCE: Macfarlane TV, McBeth J, Jones GT, et al. Whether the weather influences pain? Results from the EpiFunD study in North West England. Rheumatology 2010;49(8):1513-1520 [abstract here].


Charles said...

I've had degenerative disc disease most of my life, with three nasty disc herniations and four failed spine surgeries. This condition has generated significant osteoarthritis in my spine, beginning as early as my late twenties. I'm now 57 and riddled with arthritis well beyond my spine.

There is ample evidence to support the Vitamin D deficiency scenario. I would accept it as an axiom. It is also logical that the additional exercise during warm weather months contributes to a decline in reported pain. Like so many others, I have more pain during the winter (I live in Ohio), when it’s cold and damp. Yes, there is less sunlight and I exercise less. However, I also experience widespread pain any time that the barometric pressure is changing, including in the summer. During the past thirty years, I have experienced significant widespread pain associated with barometric pressure change at all times of the year. Therefore, I postulate that the widespread pain syndrome you’ve examined has more than one trigger (Vitamin D deficiency). Further research into the effect of barometric pressure changes on widespread pain would appear in order.

Charles Weinblatt

SB. Leavitt, MA, PhD said...

It appears that McFarlane et al. did examine barometric pressure as one of the variables in their study, but they did not comment on its effects. -- SBL

brenboo1 said...

hello all, I always check the air pressure. When the pressure changes "barometric" that is when I feel wide spread pain. It feels like every muscle in my body aches, like when you have the flu, but only worse.
Too bad that the study did not comment on its effects.
I already know the effects on my own body.
Great article.