The Effects of Barometric Pressure on Joints

Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is the force exerted by the atmosphere at a given point on Earth. Barometric pressure constantly changes and varies around the world, especially at higher elevation levels when the pressure is lower than at sea level. As the weather changes, so does barometric pressure-- this allows for the prediction of weather, and in particular, of impending storms. However, barometric pressure is not just related to predicting the weather, but in fact, also to one’s body. Many people with chronic pain can often feel pain before a weather change, such as a storm or heavy rainfall, which allows them to predict upcoming weather. Conversely, if their pain seems to decrease, they may predict that the weather will soon be favorable and improve. Although this seems rather unrealistic and hard to believe, they may be correct, as there may be scientific basis behind it! 

As barometric pressure drops right before the weather changes, this lower air pressure now pushes less against one’s body. This allows tissues to expand, which then places pressure on joints and causes pain to be perceived. This is particularly relevant for those with arthritis, a term broadly used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints, including joint inflammation. Another weather related factor is low temperature, which may occur at the same time as a drop in a barometric pressure. Lower temperatures increase the thickness of the fluid in our joints, making them more stiff and therefore increasing one’s pain sensitivity during movement.

However, this should all be taken with a grain of salt-- pain sensitivity and reports of pain are both subjective matters and have to do with one’s perception. In addition to the subjectivity that naturally occurs with pain, there are more reasons why barometric pressure is not the sole cause of joint pain. Although lower temperatures increase the thickness of joint fluids, it can be argued that many tend to stay cooped up at home or not move around as much when temperatures drop. Since physical activity is an important way to relieve pain from arthritis, lack of activity due to temperatures may lead to increased pain. 

Another argument that can be made has to do with one’s psychological state. If a warm, sunny day psychologically makes one feel better, there is a high chance that a warm, sunny day will also physically make one feel better, and perceive less pain than there actually is. This can be seen in the results of two studies regarding arthritis and the weather in 2015. One, published in Journal of Rheumatology, had a sample size of eight hundred and ten participants, all of which had osteoarthritis. There was a significant correlation found between temperature, humidity, and joint pain, as a colder and more humid day, such as a wet and cold winter day, intensified one’s pain. Correspondingly, the second study, published in Rheumatology International, looked at a hundred thirty three participants with rheumatoid arthritis. On a sunny and dry day, participants reported less pain in their joints, also a significant correlation between temperature, humidity, and joint pain. 

While the connections between weather and pain cannot be ignored, the mind-body connections we have regarding the weather cannot be ignored either. Although there is some scientific proof behind drops in barometric pressure affecting tissue expansion and joint sensitivity, there are also many other factors that play a role in pain levels on a day to day basis aside from just the weather. Still, it is quite amazing that there may be a correlation between weather and the levels of pain that some feel. 

References:

https://directorthocare.com/does-temperature-and-barometric-pressure-affect-joints/

http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/weather-arthritis-pain/

https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/weather_and_pain#2

Stephanie Chan