UGA study finds many pain sufferers would change, cancel plans based on weather 'pain forecast'

If you live with chronic pain, you probably know when the weather is changing, because you can feel it.

People who live with joint pain may experience flare-ups during the colder, wetter days of winter, while those with migraine headaches can sometimes feel changes in the barometric pressure long before storms move in.

University of Georgia geography/atmospheric sciences lecturer Christopher Elcik recently led a study surveying 4,600 people, many of them chronic pain sufferers.

Does weather impact joint pain and headaches?

About 70% said they would change their plans if a weather-based pain forecast predicted a more painful day ahead.

"I was surprised just how many people seemed to be eager to actually utilize this type of novel forecast," Elcik says. "There was a lot of support, a lot of people participating in the survey, and, yeah, a lot of feedback."

In the survey, 89% of migraine sufferers and 94% of those with other health conditions identified weather as a factor that impacts their pain.

Many of those surveyed said they would change or cancel their plans based on a weather-based pain forecast.

"72% for migraine and 66% for pain-related, say they would alter their behavior in some way," Elcik says.

The higher the hypothetical pain risk was, the more likely people were to take preventive measures, such as taking medication, administering ice packs, or trying to avoid compounding triggers, Elcik says.

"I also saw people less likely to go about different plans," he says. "So, (they were) maybe more likely to stay at home on a given day, if the forecast risk was a little bit higher."

Does using a ‘pain forecast’ for weather-based joint pain help?

Elcik says about 30% of those surveyed said they are already using a weather-based pain forecast like AccuWeather's migraine and arthritis pain forecast.

But, he cautions, more scientific research is needed to understand whether there is a connection between weather and pain levels and which types of weather patterns seem to be more triggering.

"Those really muggy, warm, humid days seemed to result in the greatest instance of pain," he says, "But, even within conditions, there is slight variability."

For people with migraine, Elcik says, the studies show really dry, hot days seem to be most triggering.

So, pain forecasts would have to target specific health conditions.

But Elcik predicts pain forecasts will someday be a regular part of weather forecasting.

"Now, they do allergy forecasts, flu forecasts," he says. "It just seems like this is the natural progression of doing more human health-based forecasting, absolutely."