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Cloudy with a Chance of Pain: latest research links weather to chronic pain

 

As an expert in chronic pain I spend a fair amount of time at conferences or networking with others in my field. And then of course there is the day job, and that is where I learn the most. Talking to my clients about their experiences and what works for them teaches me the most.

One thing which I have always just felt was true, instinct if you like, is that damp miserable weather makes people’s experience of pain worse. 

If you suffer from chronic pain you may well agree. You may even be getting images and thoughts about this as you read. A raw grey day, perhaps a cold wind, a bit of drizzle, wet pavements. It almost hurts just thinking about it, doesn’t it?

Of course, there is nothing new about this insight. Going right back to ancient times, Hippocrates, the ancient Greek who was the founder of medicine, believed that weather affected symptoms of what we would recognise today as arthritis. 

Smartphones collect the data on pain

But there is something new I want to tell you about. We can now use the latest smartphone technology to find out more about these old beliefs. And that is exactly what a team of researchers in Manchester have been doing.  The study is called Cloudy with a Chance of Pain and you can read it here. https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/cloudy-with-a-chance-of-pain-smartphone-study-shows-pain-more-likely-on-humid-windy-days/

It was funded by Versus Arthritis and was based on reports from people recruited from all over the UK. The participants were given a smartphone app and asked to report their symptoms of pain. At the same time the app linked into local GPS systems which recorded the weather on each day. Then the two sorts of data were put together. And the results ae exciting. 

Low air pressure causes pain

The ground-breaking findings are that the biggest factor in people reporting more pain is not temperate but low air pressure, which also means higher humidity. 

For most people, humid low-pressure days felt more painful. Windy days meant chronic pain was even worse. Dry days were better, most people reported less pain then, even when it was cold. So, low air pressure and wind seem to make pain seem worse. 

This is very interesting and seems to go against what we thought we knew. 

Most people I see believe they are better in warm sunny weather, and certainly for most of us our moods are better then. But this detailed study seemed to go beyond the common sense that we feel better if it is warm and sunny so our pain does not feel as bad. They did take account of what people’s mood was like when they reported. Even when mood was taken into account the weather factors still played a role. It could well be that there is some physical cause here which we do not understand.

Does weather provide a physical reason for worse pain?

Professor Will Dixon,  an expert in digital epidemiology from Manchester University, explained what was going on. 

“The analysis showed that on damp and windy days with low pressure the chances of experiencing more pain, compared to an average day, was around 20%. This would mean that, if your chances of a painful day on an average weather day were 5 in 100, they would increase to 6 in 100 on a damp and windy day.

“The results of this study could be important for patients in the future for two reasons. Given we can forecast the weather, it may be possible to develop a pain forecast knowing the relationship between weather and pain. This would allow people who suffer from chronic pain to plan their activities, completing harder tasks on days predicted to have lower levels of pain. The dataset will also provide information to scientists interested in understanding the mechanisms of pain, which could ultimately open the door to new treatments.”

I find this very exciting and will be telling you about any follow up work. Perhaps we will discover what physical factors affect our pain. 

And this research gives us ways we can use this research now. One of the mainstays of my work is to get clients to plan, to recognise which are good days and which are bad days. I even wrote a short book about this.   Break the Pain Cycle in 28 Days https://www.amazon.co.uk/Break-Pain-Cycle-days-Techniques/dp/0995459975/ref=sr_1_2?crid=11Y25WS91248C&keywords=sue+peacock&qid=1572254618&sprefix=sue+peac%2Caps%2C172&sr=8-2

This latest research can be another important part of the jigsaw. 

You can read more details of the survey here. https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/cloudy-with-a-chance-of-pain-smartphone-study-shows-pain-more-likely-on-humid-windy-days/

Debbie Waller’s Stress Account

I have been reading a very good book by a hypnotherapy colleague of mine called Their Worlds Your Words’ . It is by Debbie Waller who runs a very successful training school and a thriving hypnotherapy business in Yorkshire. Her book, is actually for other therapists and I would thoroughly recommend it to them. But when I was reading it, I noticed some insights which I think are useful for the general public, and especially to people dealing with chronic pain.

Here is one section of Debbie’s book, which develops a ‘stress account’ which I adapt for my clients and which you might find useful for yourself:

Maintain a good work/life balance

. . . You can check your work/life balance by running a kind of audit, and one way to do this is to create a ‘stress account’ 1. Most accounts are there to keep track of your income and expenditure to make sure you don’t overspend. The stress account on the next page is there to monitor the emotional ups and downs of your day to make sure you don’t over-tax yourself. 

Essentially you make up a list in two columns. . . Log the activities and events that deplete your energies on one side and those that replenish them on the other. Assign a score between 1 and 10 to each depending on the value.

. . . The odd day ‘in the red’ is probably to be expected – we all have them – but if you regularly find yourself in negative figures, you can identify where the biggest or most frequent pressures come from and take action.”

Debbie suggests that if you find yourself ‘in the red’ you reflect and recognise you do not have to be 100 percent perfect. 

If you would like to read more from Debbie, her book is available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Their-Worlds-Your-Words-Hypnotherapists-ebook/dp/B01NBM848Z/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=debbie+waller&qid=1572256314&sr=8-1

If you do one thing this month . . . Sleep well with Dr Sue

I know this can be a difficult time of year if you suffer from chronic pain. The research we looked at earlier in this blog gives us some reasons why. As the weather is not changing quickly and we are hunkering down it is important to look after yourself. 

One thing I would focus on is getting the right amount of sleep. That is enough sleep to wake up refreshed and ready for the day. But not so much that you stay in bed all day. One thing I stress for all my clients in that sleeping well is important but it is not separate from developing a healthy life regime. Put simply, if you eat well, exercise when you can, get absorbed in hobbies and the rest you are likely to sleep better. As well as my book, I now have a product which you can use to help yourself. 

Sleep well with Dr Sue is available at 

https://sleepwellwithdrsue.com/

It is an excellent companion to my book Sleeping with Pain, strategies for a restful night which is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleeping-Pain-Strategies-restful-management/dp/0995459924/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=sue+peacock&qid=1572256524&sr=8-1

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