Google Suggests Rain Does Not Increase Joint Pain

Google Suggests Rain Does Not Increase Joint Pain

By Staff.

It’s common to hear that people with joint pain feel its intensity increase when it rains. A new deep dive into data finds that weather conditions in 45 US cities are associated with Google searches about joint pain. However, researchers from UW Medicine and Harvard University say the increased searches and joint pain are more likely to be a result of increased activity levels when temperatures rise.

As temperatures rose within a span of 23 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, searches about knee and hip pain rose steadily, too. Knee-pain searches peaked at 73 degrees and were less frequent at higher temperatures. Hip-pain searches peaked at 83 degrees and then tailed off. Rain actually dampened search volumes for both.

The findings in PLOS ONE indicate that people’s activity level is likelier than the weather itself to cause pain that triggers online searches, say investigators from UW Medicine in Seattle and Harvard University.

“We were surprised by how consistent the results were throughout the range of temperatures in cities across the country,” said Scott Telfer, a researcher in orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine.  He collaborated with Nick Obradovich, a postdoctoral fellow in science, technology and public policy at Harvard.

The two used Google Trends, which reflects global use of the company’s search engine. They created keyword searches and phrases for hip pain, knee pain and arthritis, as well as a control search related to stomach pain.

From the 50 most populous U.S. cities, they sought daily summaries of local weather data from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2015. The data included temperature, precipitation, relative humidity and barometric pressure – variables previously suggested as associated with increases in musculoskeletal pain. Five cities were dropped from the final results due to incomplete data.

Among the weather variables, only temperature and precipitation were found to have statistically significant associations, and only with searches for knee and hip pain. Searches about arthritis, which Telfer said was the study’s impetus, had no discernible correlation with weather factors.

“You hear people with arthritis say they can tell when the weather is changing,” Telfer said. “But with past studies there’s only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those.”

Because knee- and hip-pain searches increased as temperatures rose until it grew uncomfortably hot, and rainy days tended to slightly reduce search volumes for hip and knee pain, the researchers inferred that “changes in physical activity levels” were primarily responsible for those searches.

“We haven’t found any direct mechanism that links ambient temperature with pain. What we think is much more likely explanation is the fact that people are more active on nice days, so more prone to have overuse and acute injuries from that and to search online for relevant information. That’s our hypothesis for what we’ll explore next,” Telfer said.

The interest in using internet data, he added, stems from the fact that web searches are increasingly people’s first response to experiencing adverse health symptoms.

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Authored by: Staff

There are 23 comments for this article
  1. Howard Techau at 11:37 am

    OMG!! This data is so flimsy and inaccurate!! I am surprised that such a highly honored institute such as Harvard, would even think about doing a survey of this kind, What a waste of time and money!! Everyone who has chronic pain knows that rain and other weather issues do affect us.

  2. Charlene Houchins at 7:38 am

    What garbage, the “study by Google and Harvard”. It’s a running joke with my grandchildren, “Is it going to rain, Grandma?”. I totally agree with the premise that it is not the rain, per se, it is the change in barometric pressure. I have been living with chronic pain for nearly seven years (hips mostly, now some knee, collateral damage, the story of how and why is too long for this post). I think my “study” is of sufficient duration to be valid. Obviously the members of “the staff” at Google who came up with their conclusions have not experienced the real “chronic pain” personally. Kudos to the National Pain Institute and particularly Suzanne Stewart, for emotional support to those who suffer with pain.

  3. Kathtryn at 5:31 am

    I truly am appalled that we pay for such useless “research”.
    Explain, please, how this is helping find a cure for chronic pain?
    I’m angry that such bunk was allowed to be published by National Pain.
    Heat does not increase pain, perhaps it makes people uncomfortable, which leads to pain.
    I am a warrior of RSD/CRPS , Fibromyalgia and Neuropathy. I can attest that the changes in barometric pressure, which occurs before a rain storm, does indeed effect my pain levels.
    Let’s put the research money into finding cures, not useless information.

  4. B. J. Allen at 4:10 am

    This ‘study’ overlooks some obviously important points:
    1a] Acute pain sufferers might be inclined to search about a correlation between pain levels and weather conditions
    1b] Chronic pain sufferers and their caregivers know the correlation from person long-term experience and observation
    2a] Acute pain responds to weather changes to different degrees than chronic pain responds to weather changes
    2b] Mild, moderate, and severe pain respond to weather changes to different degrees
    3a] Acute pain sufferers have not had enough experience with their pain to have learned their personal responses
    3b] Chronic pain sufferers will have bookmarked their preferred weather sites that they use to confirm the cause of increased pain levels before calling their doctors about what else may have increased their pain level

    This study fails to reveal how wide a time frame they looked at: if they only attribute the search results to weather conditions at the time of the searches this study failed before it even began. The searches also have no way of knowing if the searchers are concerned about current pain levels or a series of prior pain levels.

  5. Danny Elliott at 2:55 pm

    I’ve come to this party late. I read this article and was exasperated at the fact that the UW Medicine and, especially, Harvard University (!) would use such flimsy information for a study, much less make a conclusion based on the flimsy information! This is what I consider to truly be “fake news”.

    I was wound up, ready to write my comment. But, after reading what has already been written by you guys, there’s nothing left to say.

    Excellent comments! I now count on the comments by the readers of the National Pain Report for a) confirmation of my opinions and b) increased understanding of chronic pain and the various causes of the suffering of so many people.

    This is a well-informed and experienced group of people who do a wonderful job of communicating about the hurdles we face. While I don’t know any of you, personally, I’ve come to know many of you by your writing about the suffering and difficulties of living with chronic pain. Whenever I feel like “fighting” is useless, you guys always seem to reinvigorate me. Thank you all for your wonderful comments! Somehow, they help me more than I ever knew!

  6. Kathy at 10:17 am

    I have to say that it is the “Barometric pressure” term that is responsible for joint pain in my total hip replacements. Because there is a drop in barometric pressure-the bone internally expands- causing me to experience bone pain temporarily-until it ceases to rain. I think your survey is flawed! I don’t have as much pain in warmer weather. So, I think this study needs to be re-done, and by using proper terminology! I know MANY people who feel pain like myself–with a DROP in barometric pressure. I am unable to work-but have been an RN. Who worked in the Hospital setting. Please get the facts right!

  7. Joy Hidalgo at 9:05 pm

    Stuff it! Being housebound doesn’t change what is! Nicely Written, but unsubstanciated by the human element! It spoke ONLY to presumed activity and high temperatures. Absolutely nothing about the Heat Index and the effects of high humidity and rain on the human condition in general and on those suffering with Arthritis or the associated chronic pain. Please consider that computers and data bases Do Not Experience Pain.

  8. Mona Twocats-Romero at 6:45 pm

    I have found that a change in the barometric pressure, not rain, are associated with increased pain and decreased energy. My activity levels are the same all the time, yet I can tell when a storm is moving in before I see any weather signs (such as clouds forming, etc.).

  9. JDP at 7:05 pm

    I have found my pain level increases when there is a change in the barometric pressure, in either direction. That is when my Fibro/CFS flares, and my arthritic joints in my feet really get angry and red. I’m not sure it is necessarily about rain, but I do think there is a correlation with the change in pressure readings on the local weather website and when I feel the increase in the pain, even with no exertion, or any other logical activity that would have an obvious affect on me. You know, obvious, like falling out of a speeding car, or being hit by “a train”. :-/

  10. Tom Horn at 6:19 pm

    I know as much as 5 days or more before a change in the weather. My right lower tibea and ankle I cannot walk on without a limp at this time . The rest of my pain which begins at my head and ends at that right ankle is increased by at least double if not more. Migraines increase. So, the giggle guys know nothing.

  11. Maureen at 3:54 pm

    I agree. I can for sure feel pressure pain before the rain, which tends to release after the rain. And most everyone I know attests to this also. Our bodies tell the proof of pain…

  12. Kathy C at 1:40 pm

    More dubious “Science.” Of course there is no correlation with temperature, because it is related to Barometric Pressure. Another example of misdirection. They are probably selling something or have some agenda to undermine peoples perception. The very idea that this nonsense was posted here, should have us all questioning the veracity of everything..

  13. Louis Ogden at 1:32 pm

    I’ve not noticed rain increasing pain per se; however, I do believe that rapid changes in barometric pressure can do such a thing

  14. Beatrice Boucher at 11:08 am

    I’d like to know the age range as well, which is probably difficult to discern by studying searches without actual demographic info. My guess is that a majority of people, say, over 50, aren’t using the internet to search this info. Right there, a key demographic is missing from a study that includes arthritis, which, again, has a majority of patients over 50. While I can appreciate that study data trends can be useful, this study misses the mark due to the exclusion of key data. If it were to study the “act” of searching, perhaps. But to put a headline that says “Study suggests Rain not related to joint pain” is too misleading and irresponsible. The majority of surfers – at any age – has already been shown to “skim headlines” and not much more, and use those headlines as their knowledge base. Google Trends HAS already proven that, and I even did a survey for that study. So 1) to do the same as many of the other lesser dignified “research” or news outlets, by posting a misleading headline is medically irresponsible, and in conclusion, 2) to use, as a basis for that headline, a study or data that excludes such important data is, again, medically irresponsible. To other readers – please do not for one moment take this article as proof or anything even suggestive of proper research. Studying digital trends can be helpful when researching social impact, analyzing political temperment, etc, but in no way should it be misconstrued as true medical research.

  15. cindy deim at 10:16 am

    Honestly, I’m not sure where they get this stuff. I don’t have arthritis, as far as I know. But my pin increases a great deal when the clouds come in.

  16. Rick at 10:07 am

    I’m beginning to wonder what’s happened to good fundamental science? Now, it seems that most studies are politically slanted.

    I have CRPS and can tell you in advance w/ great accuracy when the barometric pressure deviates either direction. You can set your day on it. I stay active every day, therefore not reliable variable.

    I’ve got all my notes spanning over 1 yr for support. I’m actually researching towns where the barometric pressure has little deviation. That’s how much I believe this study to be bunk.

  17. Sandy Auriene Sullivan at 9:53 am

    It may not be rain specifically; cold damp conditions *hurt* and barometric pressure changes *HURT* badly. We’ve joked about me being a ‘walking barometer’ because I can tell when a tornado forms within a 50 mile radius of me. The barometric pressure change in a T-storm w/possible tornadoes is significant enough to put older animals into agony; why would humans be different. Oh google. 😐

  18. Elizabeth Harris at 8:55 am

    This is ridiculous. I am almost bedridden. I seldom, if ever, am on my feet very long. 1-3 minutes is my limit. I know when weather is coming. In TX and OK the changes in barometric pressure trigger immense pain. I live in AZ now and have not witnessed the barometric pressure even changing in 3 months. My pain is much less here, but I need to get through at least one yr before I can say. Sometimes the studies seem to be looking for something new….to make a name for yourself…..people in pain know the triggers and they even know what they need and that is pain relief. In the absence of legal medical marijuana, opioids are the only relief. Now the scientific geniuses say we don’t need opioids, we might kill ourselves. I’ve been on opioids most of my 68 yrs and haven’t killed myself yet. Thankfully I don’t have to suffer from the idiocies of that opinion because I can now use legal marijuana and have been strongly encouraged to do so by 3 MD’s. As you can see, research has left me behind. The meds prescribed to fibromyalgia/arthritis patients are harmful to us and don’t work. How about spending your time looking for info on fibromyalgia? Most drs only prescribe from that horrible list they have and don’t even understand fibromyalgia. They just pretend rather than admit the truth. YOUR STUDY IS DEAD WRONG.

  19. Jeannah at 7:52 am

    Forgot to add! 19 years of fibromyalgia pain and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt humidity, rain/storms and barometric pressure changes absolutely do exacerbate my pain levels. This is not rocket science and I don’t need any Dr. or Google statistician to tell me otherwise to know that it is true.

  20. Jeannah at 7:50 am

    Ugh. People aren’t on the internet searching for reasons for their barometric pressure related pain or pre rain/storm pain because they already know from years of experience with it, that is what it is due to. Duh. I had a back injury in my late 20’s (I’m 56 now) and was able to recover from it without surgery (so thankful!). My back never bothers me EXCEPT right before it is due to rain.

  21. Fawn Green at 7:36 am

    ABSOLUTELY false!!! My arthritis pain ramps up and sets in sometimes hours sometimes a full day before the rains come. I’m pretty sure it has more to do with barometric pressure than temperature. I can accurately “predict” rain 100% of the time… WITHOUT any prior knowledge of what the weather patterns are. My pain tells me it’s coming. My husband use the same way. I’ll often say to him, babe, IS your pain RIDICULOUS right now, just all over? He’ll say, lemme check the weather. Sure enough, storms will be heading for us. EVERY TIME. So no study can tell me anything…as I LIVE it. No psychic abilities, no meteorologist’s diagnostic tools or gadgets…just my arthritic bones and joints…. And they NEVER get it wrong!!!

  22. Anne at 7:18 am

    Some of these studies mystify me. Weather changes..wind, rain, humidity, barometric pressure… all DO affect me. Mostly my fibromyalgia pain, but also my joint/back pain. I can feel bad before I even know it is about to rain or the wind has picked up.

  23. JT Titus at 5:26 am

    Rain does affect joint pain, as well as arthritis without activity as well. I wake up with knee pain, therefore activity level hasn’t even started! Also, I don’t even know it’s raining before I figure out that’s why I have knee pain!

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