Thanks to the effects of barometric pressure changes on your body, the pain you feel in your body prior to a storm may have some validity. Yes, we all have an elderly relative who complains that her knee or fingers flare up when the weather changes; but according to research, published in the journal Pain, that relative may know what she is talking about.
Two thirds of the patients interviewed reported that they could actually feel the changes even before the weather changed. According to David Borenstein, rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Centre, it is typical for joint pain to start even before the first raindrops fall, says.
There’s no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain, or if a specific mechanism is at fault, Robert Newlin Jamison says, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School and a researcher who has studied weather’s effects on chronic pain patients. But there are plausible theories.
The leading theory points to changes in barometric air pressure. Although many people say that their pain worsens with damp, rainy weather, research has shown that it’s not the cold, wind, rain, or snow, Borenstein says. Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. This lower air pressure pushes less against the body, allowing tissues to expand; and those expanded tissues can put pressure on the joint. The change is microscopic but fibromyalgia sufferers (who may or may not have damaged central nervous systems – depending on the research) have nerves which can become more sensitised because of injury, inflammation, scarring, or adhesions.
‘For whatever reason,’ says Jamison, ‘the nerves are just hypersensitive, and they just keep firing, based on what you do – or not for any reason at all. But if there’s some expansion internally – in other words, the body can either expand or contract based on outside pressure changes – then that’s going to affect how pain is signalled.’
Nevertheless, the link between pain and weather changes remains hypothetical; research has come to mixed conclusions.
- Stay warm. Dressing in layers, keeping your home heated, and warming up the car before you get in can help ease pain related to cold weather. (Personally, I love lying under a heap of clothes that have just come out of the dryer!)
- Keep moving. Before you go outside during cold weather, try to exercise your painful joints to loosen up stiffness.
- Improve your mood. People in chronic pain often feel anxious, depressed, and irritable, Jamison says. But in many cases, when pain strikes, “The brain is able to override a lot of sensations.”
- Realize that the pain is temporary. When weather-related pain strikes, it is short-lived (as opposed to the rest of the pain we feel!)
WARNING: you may become that relative who tells people when it is going to rain!