Pain Before the Storm

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Pain Before the Storm

When it comes to people experiencing an increase in knee pain before a rainstorm, the research backing this occurrence is mixed.

Maybe you’ve heard a relative or friend predict a rainstorm based on an ache in their joints, or maybe you’ve experienced it. Is it possible?

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found no connection between rainy weather and increased joint pain. The researchers came to this conclusion by looking at more than 11 million medical visits that occurred on rainy days versus dry days and found that there was not only an increase during rainy days but there was in fact an increase on dry days. That being said, this could be due to people being more likely to cancel or postpone a medical visit during bad weather.

Another study published in Arthritis Care & Research, took a look at the weather at the time that the study participants first began to experience arthritis symptoms, and compared it to the weather a week or a month before the symptoms first appeared.

What they found was that there was no link between joint pain, rain, or temperature. However, further research has shown that the impact of the outside environment on joint pain is real, it just isn’t necessarily caused by the type of weather or the temperature. It’s caused by a change in something known as barometric pressure.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine followed 200 patients for three months and found that their knee pain did in fact increase when the temperature dropped due to the drop in the air pressure.

Furthermore, another study that looked at 712 people with osteoarthritis, found that 469 people (69%) reported that their joint pain is weather sensitive. However, again, it wasn’t the type of weather or the temperature that caused this, but the change in barometric pressure.

So what is barometric pressure?

Barometric pressure is the measurement of air pressure in the atmosphere. More specifically it is the measure of the weight exerted by air molecules.

Barometric pressure is measured and analyzed by meteorologists so that they can track weather changes and predict storms. When the barometric pressure changes, the weather changes as well.

So how does a change in barometric pressure cause an increase in knee pain?

Though the exact reason for this increase in knee pain is unknown, most experts agree that a decrease in air pressure pushes less against the body, thus allowing the tissue to swell and expand. This expansion of tissue can thereby put more pressure on the joints, and cause an increase in pain, as well as tightness, stiffness, and overall discomfort.

Some of the other possible reasons for the increase in pain based on weather and barometric pressure changes are:

  1. The cartilage is worn down in the joints of those with knee osteoarthritis which exposes nerve endings. These nerve endings are sensitive to pressure changes and result in pain.
  2. Changes in barometric pressure can cause expansion and contraction of the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage within the joints. Which as a result, causes an increase in knee pain.
  3. The viscous fluid in the joints, which reduces friction between the bones actually becomes thicker in cold weather, which increases joint stiffness and pain.
  4. Cold and wet weather often causes people to be less active. Therefore without proper exercise, inactivity worsens joint pain and stiffness.

Fortunately, the impact that the changes in weather and barometric pressure have on knee pain is temporary. When these changes occur, our bodies will eventually either adjust to the change or return to normal when the air pressure increases.

Even though the research regarding a connection between weather changes and knee pain is not entirely clear in either direction, most doctors and people with knee osteoarthritis will agree that in their personal experience, a connection indeed exists.

Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to prevent the weather and barometric pressure from fluctuating, however, there are things we can do to help lessen the impact that these changes have on our joints.

In our next article, we will take a look at a few simple things that can be done to decrease pain during times of air pressure fluctuation and temperature changes.

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