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].