Not quite, but a study published in August 2017 in the journal PLoS One found that there was no association between frequency of internet searches for arthritis pain and changing weather patterns. Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle looked at the weather patterns of the 50 largest cities in the United States over a five-year period, and then examined how often people did online searches related to knee pain, hip pain, and arthritis. They used Google Trends, a resource that measures the frequency in search terms on Google’s search engine.
Internet Searches and Arthritis
“When we explored the relationships, we didn’t find any direct evidence of there being any effect of weather on arthritis search terms,”says Scott Telfer, doctor of engineering, the study’s lead author and an acting assistant professor in the department of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. “That’s not to say there isn’t an effect, but it would have given pretty convincing evidence had we been able to find it."
Do More People Look for Arthritis Information When Weather Changes?
For years there has been speculation, and studies have been done, on the idea that weather impacts arthritis symptoms. But this new research investigated the correlation in weather changes with pain searches. Researchers looked at weather changes related to temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and precipitation in 50 U.S. cities, then analyzed data from 45 cities where information was complete from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2015.
Modern Behaviors Around Pain and Health Problems
Dr. Telfer and his coauthor, Nick Obradovich, PhD, an affiliate at Harvard University and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, looked at online search terms because they reflect what people are doing when they feel pain. “We are very interested in the fact that the internet has really changed the way people get information about health,” Telfer says. “Whenever you have a problem, the first thing you do is that you no longer see a doctor, you type a sentence into Google.”
Who Is Searching Online for Medical Information?
He noted that while many people use online searches, a limitation of this method is that there are typically fewer older people using it, compared with younger ones. But citing 2014 research, the study found that more than half of all people over age 65 are online, and younger people may be searching on behalf of those more senior. “There are a lot of older people who do use the internet, so we thought we could still get an idea using this approach.”
The Findings About Search Trends and Temperature
What the study did find is that search terms related to knee and hip pain and swelling increased as the temperature did. Using a span from 23 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the searches for knee pain were most common at 73 degrees, and those for hip pain were most seen at 83 degrees. At higher temps, the searches decreased slightly. Neither rain nor humidity had an effect on search frequency. Barometric pressure showed a correlation with searches for knee pain related to trauma, but not for pain related to arthritis.
Good Weather Activities Versus Bad Weather Activities
“Our hypothesis of what is the driver for that is related to more activity,” says Telfer. “As the weather gets better, people do more sports or running, and there’s more of an opportunity to have an injury and then look online to get a sense of what the problem is.” And as it gets too warm to exercise outside, injuries decrease.
What To Do if You Feel More Pain When Weather Changes
What does this mean for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Telfer says the results were in line with earlier research that hasn’t found a link between joint pain and climatic changes. Seek expert guidance (and not just Google) if weather alone worsens your RA pain. Other pain treatments may be available.
“Ask your medical provider if you’re concerned about your pain increasing in different seasons,” he says.