Rain increases joint pain? Google suggests otherwise

August 9, 2017
The chart indicates how Google searches for terms relating to hip and knee pain changed based on local weather conditions in major US cities. Credit: Data courtesy of Scott Telfer / University of Washington School of Medicine

Some people with achy joints and arthritis swear that weather influences their pain. New research, perhaps the deepest, data-based dive into this suggestion, finds that weather conditions in 45 U.S. cities are indeed associated with Google searches about joint pain.

But it might not be the association you'd expect.

As temperatures rose within the study's focus 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, to be published Aug. 9 in PLOS ONE, indicate that people's activity level - increasing as temperatures rise, to a point - is likelier than the itself to cause pain that spurs 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 investigators used Google Trends, a resource that reflects global use of the company's search engine. They created search strings of words and phrases for hip 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.

Google Trends expresses data in weekly, not daily, increments, which slightly limited the findings' precision vis-à-vis time. Temperatures and searches below 23 degrees were aggregated into one group, as were temperatures and searches above 86 degrees. Those two groups of combined temperatures correspond with somewhat less scientific confidence, Telfer acknowledged, but the trend of fewer searches, relative to both 23 and 86 degrees, was evident in each group.

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," he said. "But with past studies there's only been vague associations, nothing very concrete, and our findings align with those."

The stomach-pain searches functioned well as a control: Those volumes were greater at low and high temperature extremes and ebbed in mild temperatures, a very different pattern from the knee- and hip-pain searches.

Because knee- and 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 with . 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 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 are increasingly people's first response to experiencing adverse health symptoms.

Explore further: The weather's not to blame for your aches and pains

More information: PLOS ONE (2017). journals.plos.org/plosone/arti … journal.pone.0181266

Related Stories

The weather's not to blame for your aches and pains

January 10, 2017
New research from The George Institute for Global Health has revealed the weather plays no part in the symptoms associated with either back pain or osteoarthritis.

Noisy knees may be an early sign of knee osteoarthritis

May 4, 2017
A new study using data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multi-center observational study of nearly 3500 participants, indicates that people who hear grating, cracking, or popping sounds in or around their knee joint ...

Some benefit for curcuminoids in knee osteoarthritis

May 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—Curcuminoids seem beneficial for knee osteoarthritis (OA), although they are less effective for pain relief than ibuprofen, according to a review and meta-analysis published online May 4 in the International ...

Exercise may not provide benefit over physical therapy after knee replacement

November 21, 2016
In a randomized trial of patients who underwent total knee replacement as a treatment for osteoarthritis, a group program of strengthening and aerobic exercises was not better at alleviating long-term knee pain or overcoming ...

Google aims for better health search results

June 20, 2016
Whether it's a tummy ache or a pain in the knee, Google is working to come up with better answers to questions on specific health issues.

Recommended for you

Across Asia, liver cancer is linked to herbal remedies: study

October 18, 2017
Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

Eating better throughout adult years improves physical fitness in old age, suggests study

October 18, 2017
People who have a healthier diet throughout their adult lives are more likely to be stronger and fitter in older age than those who don't, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Global calcium consumption appears low, especially in Asia

October 18, 2017
Daily calcium intake among adults appears to vary quite widely around the world in distinct regional patterns, according to a new systematic review of research data ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on Friday, Oct. 20.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.