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Rain increases joint pain? Google suggests otherwise

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, published in PLOS ONE, indicate that people’s activity level – increasing as temperatures rise, to a point – is likelier than the weather 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, knee pain and arthritis, as well as a control search related to stomach pain.