When your grandmother told you her knees hurt just before a rainstorm, she may have been on to something. Changes in barometric pressure can affect more than the weather: They also can affect how your joints and muscles feel. While you cannot change the weather, understanding barometric pressure differences can help you determine why your joints may hurt at a particular time. Notify your physician if atmospheric changes in pressure lead to extreme pain and discomfort.
When the barometric pressure changes, the air can cause your joints to swell. The swelling in your joints places additional pressure on the fluid-filled cavities in your joints. This may affect the range of motion in your joint and cause pain with each step. The most commonly affected joints are the hips, knees, elbows, shoulders and hands, according to Science Daily. This is because these joints contain higher amounts of baroreceptors, which are sensors that respond to changes in pressure.
Barometric pressure refers to the weight of the air. Meteorologists use changes in pressure as one method for predicting changes in the weather. While barometric pressure fluctuates somewhat due to temperature, the pressure is more affected by changes in moisture, such as when it rains. Barometric pressure dips when the weather changes from dry to wet.
The presence of certain conditions increases the likelihood barometric pressure changes will affect your joints and muscles. For example, those with osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint condition, are more likely to experience pain with pressure changes because the joint may already be swollen and inflamed. Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition the immune system causes, also can lead to pain with barometric pressure changes. Those with sinusitis, migraines and deep-vein thrombosis that causes blood clots, especially in the legs, also may be affected by weather changes.
Although you cannot change the weather, you can engage in preventive techniques for joint and muscle pain when you know weather changes are coming. This includes keeping your joints and muscles either warm to minimize aching or cold to reduce swelling. Your doctor may recommend massaging any affected areas, taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or applying topical ointments to reduce joint pain. If your joint pain cannot be relieved, some women opt to move to a warmer climate that does not have a high incidence of low-pressure climate systems, such as Arizona and New Mexico, Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, a Texas-based climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A & M, said on CNN.com.
- The New York Times: For Chronic Pain Sufferers, Change, Not Weather, May Hurt
- CNN Health: Conditions That Predict the Weather
- Science Daily: People With Joint Pain Can Really Forecast Thunderstorms
- PsychCentral: Why Does Pain Get Worse When a Storm Is Coming?
- Department of Education Office of Science: Air Pressure
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.