Pain-based weather forecasts could influence actions, study shows

Science and Health

It’s not a myth that people may suffer pains when the weather changes. Orthopedic pain or migraines, for example, can occur when it rains, is cold or the wind blows. For people who suffer from chronic pain, weather can be a significant factor in their day-to-day plans, according to American researchers from the University of Georgia.

About 70% of respondents polled said they would change their behavior based on weather-based pain forecasts. “We’re finding more consistent relationships between weather patterns and pain, so it seems more possible to make weather-based pain forecasts,” said lead author and geography/atmospheric sciences lecturer Christopher Elcik. “This study was to survey and see what the audience was for this type of forecast.”

The study, just published in the International Journal of Biometeorology under the title “Perceptions of weather-based pain forecasts and their effect on daily activities,” surveyed more than 4,600 people. Among migraine sufferers, 89% identified weather as something that impacts their pain level, and 79% saw weather as a trigger for pain. Among individuals with other conditions, 64% said weather patterns could trigger pain and 94% identified weather as a factor that impacts pain.Elcik built on previous research regarding specific weather patterns and pain-related conditions to gauge public interest in a weather-based pain forecast that could indicate high or moderate risk for migraines or chronic pain.

“As studies begin to have more success uncovering the relationships between atmospheric conditions and pain, weather-based pain forecasting becomes more of a reality. We wanted to know whether people living with migraines and/or other pain-related conditions are receptive to weather-based pain forecasts and if these forecasts actually impact the decision-making of those who use them,” the authors wrote.  

Rain in Bnei Brak (credit: REUVEN CASTRO)

“I see how much people can be affected by these types of pain, so if I can provide someone with insight into the level of risk for a day, maybe people can take steps to prevent the pain from happening,” Elcik said. “There are preventative measures people can take if risks are higher.”

Taking preventative measures

If the hypothetical risk were high, more than half of respondents said they were likely to take preventive measures such as resting, taking pills, resting or avoiding compounding triggers. About 47% of respondents with migraines, and 46% with pain-related conditions were “extremely likely” to take such measures.

Desire for a forecasting tool was quite high, Elcik said, with 72% of those living with migraine and 66% with pain-related conditions saying they would alter their behavior by canceling plans or taking preventive measures in response to a weather-based pain forecast. Some respondents reported already using web-based tools, such as AccuWeather’s arthritis or migraine forecast, which predicts low-to-high risk according to atmospheric conditions. With existing tools, however, there is little available information about the variables considered or how the predictions are made.


Whether to continue with plans also depended on the length of the activity. If plans were about 30 minutes long, 57% of respondents with migraines and 52% with pain-related conditions said they were “extremely likely” to continue plans despite a moderate risk of pain, and about 43% from each group would continue with a highest risk forecast.

With an activity lasting more than three hours, however, that number dropped to around 23% for moderate risk and 18% for high risk with migraines and 21% or 23%, respectively, for other pain-related conditions. As level for risk increased, so did the likelihood to alter plans. “This was across the board,” Elcik said. “Everyone was more likely to cancel plans if the forecast risk was higher.”

While additional research and studies are needed to create a reliable pain-based weather forecast, Elcik said this study highlights the importance of developing such a resource. “Our study shows there’s an audience that’s willing and eager to try something new, and there are probably many more people who would benefit—more than we even thought,” he said. “I think these results can push other researchers to also look at similar, larger-scale weather phenomena and help the community better understand how the atmosphere does impact pain.”