Whining on Twitter might predict back pain

This is intriguing! A large survey of 740,000 tweets collected since 2008 suggests that people who tweet about being in a low mood are at increased risk of back pain in the next couple of days.

Many studies over recent years have suggested that there is a link between low mood and increased perception of pain. This isn't magic – low mood alters your hormonal profile, messes up your sleep (or does your messed up sleep depress your mood?) and more besides. So perhaps it's not surprising that researchers noticed this pattern in social media updates.

The researchers go on to suggest that social media could be used in all sorts of exciting ways to predict risks for episodes of poor health.

Of course, this being science, things are never as straightforward as they seem. In my opinion the researchers have made a pretty poor effort at weeding out useless tweets — bots, "modified tweets", duplicates, they are probably all in the mix. Plus this study suffers from all the problems inherent in inductive reasoning, plus any number of sample biases. They also seem to use "weasel words": a team of "experts" selected the phrases they used. Who were these experts? Why should we trust them?

However overall I like this study. It seems to add a tiny morsel of weak evidence to the general picture that low mood increases likelihood of experiencing pain. So what next? Do we ignore the body, and focus on the mind? (Hint: nope.) Can mood even be influenced? Big questions!

You can read the study at http://jamia.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/12/11/jamia.ocv168