Cloudy With A Chance of Pain: Do Weather Changes Really Cause Pain?
Why Do I Hurt When The Weather Changes?
Maybe your grandma knew a storm was coming when her knees started to hurt. Or maybe you’re feeling your own joints ache more now that fall is upon us and the temperature outside is dropping.
It’s true that many people with back pain and neck pain are often surprisingly accurate in predicting when weather changes are approaching. Approximately three quarters of people with chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, report that their pain fluctuates with the weather. Even the Greek philosopher Hippocrates in 400 B.C noted that changes in the weather seem to affect pain levels. But while studies have investigated the effects of humidity, precipitation, and temperature to pinpoint what causes weather-related pain, the scientific consensus has been all over the map.
For example, in 2017 a group of BMJ researchers took a look at medical records of more than 11 million Medicare visits and matched them to local weather reports. They didn’t find any link between rainy days and joint pain at all. Two recent Australian studies – one on knee pain and one on lower back pain – also found little connection between temperature changes and joint complaints.
Still, research initiatives like the UK’s Cloudy With A Chance of Pain project show the phenomenon is real. Researchers from the University of Manchester tracked over 13,000 participants’ pain ratings over a period of 18 months via a smartphone app. They then mapped the results to meteorological readings and found that people reported pain 20% more often when the weather was worse. The researchers concluded that higher humidity, lower pressure, and stronger winds were significantly associated with increased pain levels.
What’s really going on, and what can you do about it?
The one weather factor that has consistently been shown to make a difference in musculoskeletal pain is barometric pressure. Barometric pressure — in simple terms — is the weight of the air pressing down on us. Increased barometric pressure tends to accompany good weather, while rain and snow storms tend to happen when the barometric pressure is low. That’s why a giant red L on doppler radar maps usually means rain is in the forecast.
Barometric pressure’s effect isn’t just limited to joint pain, either. Neurologists in Japan, publishing in the Journal of Internal Medicine, recently demonstrated a direct correlation between lower barometric pressure and the frequency and severity of migraines and headaches.
However – and this is important to understand – barometric pressure by itself is not the cause of weather-related pain. Here’s how the weather/pain cycle works:
1.) Joint or soft tissue inflammation is present due to some type of dysfunction or injury, either recently or in the past.
2.) The extra swelling and build up of fluid from inflammation (aka edema) stretches sensitive soft tissue and membranes in and surrounding the joint.
3.) Barometric pressure drops (usually accompanied by stormy weather).
4.) Like a marshmallow in a vacuum chamber, this negative pressure expands the extra fluid surrounding the joint, causing the body’s tissues and membranes to stretch even further.
5.) When the already-sensitized tissue in an inflamed region is stretched enough, pain nerve fibers are activated and you become acutely aware that bad weather is coming.
These joints and/or soft tissues must already be experiencing some degree of inflammation for changes in the weather to cause pain, otherwise everyone would have pain in every joint when storms are brewing. In the vast majority of back pain cases, this inflammation is due to dysfunction within the facet joints that affects the soft tissue, muscles and ligaments surrounding the spine.
Correct The Cause Of The Problem At Ascent
Fortunately, this means you don’t have to be hostage to the changing weather – there’s a fix! At Ascent Chiropractic, we’ll help you locate and correct these areas of joint and/or soft tissue dysfunction to resolve the underlying condition, decreasing inflammation and eliminating pain at its source. If you’re feeling the effects of the changes in the weather, make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic in Brookfield by calling 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.