Fact or myth: do weather patterns affect joint pain? That’s the age-old question a group of researchers at The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom set out to answer. To do so, they devised a smartphone-based study.
In January 2016, researchers launched Cloudy With a Chance of Pain, an app that would collect daily self-reported pain levels from participants across the United Kingdom with rheumatic diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. The app would also track each participant’s location using GPS technology and record local weather conditions. Between January 2016 and April 2017, the researchers collected 5.1 million pieces of data.1
In summer 2016, six months into the study, a team of data science interns at the Alan Turing Institute in London performed an initial analysis of the 2.2 million pieces of data submitted. The team zeroed in on 3 locations: Leeds, Norwich, and London. They found that across all 3 cities, as the number of sunny days increased from February 2016 to April 2016, the number of days participants spent in severe pain decreased. In June 2016, a particularly wet month, the team observed a marked increase in participants’ pain. The results indicated a correlation between poor weather conditions – lack of sunshine and rain – and pain.2 The researchers went on to gather data for another 9 months, wrapping up data collection in April 2017.1
As of the time of this writing, findings have not been released. In a recent blog post, project manager Louise Cook shed light on obstacles the team has faced since finishing data collection more than a year ago. For one, researchers had to clean the data to properly analyze it, that is, “put it into a format the computer can interpret.” For another, they had to figure out how to collect the best possible local weather data for each participant, a process that took months. Finally, they had to make sense of all the data, an effort that is ongoing but “in our grasp.”1
Rheumatology Advisor will keep you posted when findings become available.