A flame under a raincloud. in the background is a bell chart.

How Rain Brings on the Pain

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis feel their pain increase when its rainy, damp, or cold. In fact, a majority (75 percent) of people with chronic pain conditions believe that their pain is influenced by the weather.1 But researchers couldn’t seem to pinpoint: was this a myth or was it true? (My opinion: if we feel it, then it’s true! It may not be proven yet, but it will just be a matter of time.)

Does weather impact pain?

Researchers at the University of Manchester just published a study where participants recorded daily pain intensity with a smartphone app. The locations of the phones would link to the local weather report and then they could compare the pain reports to the actual weather where the individuals live.

During 15 months, they collected reports from 13,000 United Kingdom residents and analyzed 5.1 million pain reports. The researchers found days with higher humidity (such as rainy), lower pressure, and stronger winds were more likely associated with high pain days.2

More on this topic

They are now interested in trying to better understand the effects of the environment on pain and the mechanisms that cause pain with the goal of improving pain treatments.

Pain is complex

The researchers note that pain is complex because many factors contribute, such as the nature and severity of the chronic condition, overall health, physical activity, mood, fatigue or ability to get restful sleep, stress, and so much more.2 Better understanding the impact of weather on pain can help, but there are still many other aspects of pain that can be explored.

Respecting individual experiences with pain

It’s also important to consider that pain can vary from person to person. For example, cold is the worst for me. While humidity is not great, I feel much more pain from cold. Yet, others with RA have more difficulty with hot weather.

While understanding general trends help, we need to be aware there will be variations in individual experiences and have to account for that. Most importantly: we need to believe and respect what people say about their pain, as they are truly the experts.

Research that validates my weather and pain experiences

I feel very relieved and validated by this study. While it doesn’t change my pain or how it's treated, it feels fortifying to see my experience reflected in research. I also can believe what I am feeling and not discount my pain on a cold or rainy day. Perhaps it is also a good idea to talk with my doctor about proactively treating my pain when the weather turns foul.

Extra planning for trips in different climates

The researchers also note that people move around and that movement into different weather environments may affect a person’s pain. This is notable and good to remember when I travel for pleasure or to visit relatives. When I move into colder climates for a visit, I can plan and hopefully better cope with how my joints may react. For example, I can bring my heating blanket, extra prednisone, or plan to take some extra rests to help my RA while in the cold.

A better understanding of pain

As we all know, knowledge is power. Having our experience verified empowers us to feel confident in our experiences. It also means we may have the opportunity to plan and react using this knowledge. While pain is complicated (don’t get me started!), isolating a piece at a time helps us to grasp the whole pie and hopefully better support our bodies living with the pain of RA.

How can you use this new research to cope with pain or better understand your pain experience? Does this knowledge validate what you already knew? Does it inspire you to move to a warm, dry climate? (If only! Maybe some day!)

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