Rain, and the lack of sunshine are connected to chronic pain, according to new data collected through smartphones.

The findings were announced at the British Science Festival in Swansea by Will Dixon, Professor of Digital Epidemiology at The University of Manchester  His research team designed and implemented the ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Pain’ app to unravel the age-old idea of links between chronic or long-term pain and weather conditions.

Professor Dixon explains that “The concept of this project is joining two features that can come out of the smartphone, self-reported disease severity using an app and measuring the weather using the GPS, and that allows us to track the weather as people move around the country. Those two ingredients are what allows us to measure the association between weather and pain”.

Researchers collected eight months of data from 9,000 participants. They also launched a ‘Citizen Science Experts’ project,  where the public can have a go at the data analysis and interpretation.

The researchers found that participants experienced severe pain for less time when their was more sun and less rain. Professor Dixon suspects this is due to the the air pressure that is influencing the pain.

He explains: "Around the joint there is a joint capsule - as you change the pressure that capsule might expand or contract and some patients will have cysts in their bones around the joints, and the pressure may change their sensitivity to pain.”

The researchers believe that in the future, this app may also contribute to improved and more personalised care, as it could predict periods of pain for each patient.

“Given that you can forecast the weather, if you understand within the weather what it is that relates to pain, then you can potentially forecast the pain”.

Professor Dixon also thinks that the understanding of the impact of the weather on pain could result in better treatment of chronic pain.

Professor Dixon reveals “It’s been a real fun project to be involved in with the participants!”, as the study is still on-going the research team hope to recruit more participants as the more people provide data on their pain conditions the more robust the conclusions will be.

Dr Petra Szilagyi is an Axa Media Fellow, placed at Nature News. She is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Pharmaceutical, Chemical & Environmental Sciences at the University of Greenwich.

Photo credit: Robert Hensley via Flickr