For years, we’ve heard of people complaining of sore knees, hands, and headaches when we experience weather changes in our environment. It definitely can happen, but have you ever wondered why?
When the weather changes, the “pressure” in the atmosphere changes. Atmospheric or barometric pressure is the amount of weight that the air around us exerts on the earth and our bodies. It is the force exerted on a surface by the air above it as gravity pulls it to earth. This pressure changes depending on altitude (how high you are from sea level), as well as with weather. A “high-pressure” system leads to fair, calm weather, while a “low-pressure” system leads to cloudiness, wind and precipitation.
This change in pressure, whether your body is changing from low to high altitude, or with weather changes, can cause changes to your body and pain perception. This atmospheric pressure is also why your ears can pop on an airplane, or as you’re driving up a mountain. Your ears can “pop” as the pressure of the fluid and air inside your ears tries to match the changing pressure in the environment. Your body interacts with this pressure in many ways.
There is a lot of research confirming that people’s pain increases with changes in barometric pressure, more specifically with lower pressure, but no solid evidence as to why this happens. Most research is with patients who have arthritis in their hands, knees or hips, or pressure related headaches.
Current hypotheses include changes to atmospheric pressure:
- Altering the pressure of the synovial fluid in the joint, which forces the fluid in towards the bone, causing the bone to transmit pain signals to the brain
- Reducing the stability of a joint exerted on itself by the synovial fluid (studies found that hip joints especially were less stable with lower atmospheric pressure), causing the joint to be loaded in unfavorable positions and irritating surrounding nerves
- Changing the inflammatory (cytokine) pathways, which changes how your cells react to stress and transmit information to our nervous systems
- Cause dilation and constriction in the blood vessels in the brain, which change hormone pathways leading to migraine.
Although we cannot change the weather, we can take some steps to improve our pain during low pressure times. Strengthening arthritic joints can minimize potential for joint instability, eating less inflammatory food. Chiropractic care to help keep joints functioning well in good alignment. These are all key factors. Many of our patients attribute headaches especially to weather, but often find that chiropractic care can help to minimize headache symptoms.