Does the Weather Actually Affect My Pain?

For centuries, people have been rumored to be able to tell when a storm is approaching. Such foresight into the future was typically experienced because a person’s physical pain worsens when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Weather Sensitive Individuals Appear to Suffer Elevated Pain

Rain, rising or falling barometric pressure, temperature changes, humidity, and other weather-related things appear to cause physical discomfort in individuals who are weather sensitive. In a 2014 study done by numerous medical professionals across Europe and later published in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, researchers found that of the 712 participates, 449 appeared to be weather sensitive and suffer from more pronounced joint and arthritis pain during inclement weather.

Migraines and Weather Changes

Weather changes also appear to trigger headaches in migraine sufferers. In such instances, it is believed that the weather shifts cause an imbalance in brain chemicals such as serotonin. The shift in the chemicals triggers a migraine. If you are already experiencing a headache, the weather changes frequently intensify your pain.

Research Reveals that Pain is Increased During Moist and Cold Weather Conditions

In a study done in 2015 by a European project, researchers gathered 810 osteoarthritis sufferers together to evaluate their pain symptoms during humid weather and temperature changes. The study revealed that participants experienced far more arthritis pain when the weather was both cold and wet.

Another study also performed in 2015 by the Department of Rheumatology at the Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast, Northern Ireland studied 133 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients during changing weather conditions. Their research revealed that RA sufferers experienced less pain and swollen joints during sunny, dry days than during rainy and cold weather conditions.

In 2007, the Tufts University conducted a study that revealed that with every 10-degree drop in temperature the pain of an arthritis sufferer increased, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The research went on to show that barometric pressure, low temperatures, and precipitation also all elevated the pain level and joint swelling of the participants.

Why Does Cold, Moist Weather Cause Pain?

Theories abound in the medical community about why cold, moist weather causes pain.

  • Inactivity: Some researchers theorize that during cold, rainy weather people are more inactive and this leads to an increase in stiff joint pain. Physical activity has been shown to decrease arthritic pain and inactivity makes symptoms worse. When the weather is unpleasant, many people avoid going outside and run far fewer errands. Such a state of inactivity makes joint discomfort more intense.
  • Barometric Pressure: Barometric pressure is a prevailing opinion for the cause of weather-related pain. The increased and decreased pressure changes are believed to put a strain on inflamed tendons and make the pain more severe. Reduced barometric pressure also pushes against your body and places pressure on your joints which increases fluid levels and makes the tissue expand. These changes cause stiffness and a heightened sensitivity to pain. The barometric pressure changes are also believed to cause a shift in the brain’s chemicals which irritates nerve endings and causes electrical variances. This combination triggers headache pain.
  • Body and Mind Combination: Many physicians believe that the pain experienced during a weather shift is caused by a body and mind combination. In other words, the sufferer believes he is experiencing greater pain because of a weather change. Such perceived pain is real to the sufferer because of the mind’s influence on the body.
  • Sensitive Nerves: It is thought that some individuals who have suffered trauma, injury, scarring, or adhesions have overly sensitive nerves. The slightest changes, either environmental or mental, increase the nerves response to pain.

Should Weather-Related Pain Sufferers Move to Find Relief?

Many people who live in an area such as the wet Pacific Northwest opt to move to warmer climates such as Arizona, Southern California, or Florida in an attempt to alleviate weather-related pain. Unfortunately, such a move is rarely successful because it appears that people who are weather-sensitive still continue to experience pain even in optimum regional locations. Weather sensitive people will still feel elevated pain if there is a shift in the normal weather such as an unexpected storm. Studies have shown that when people rate their pain in different regions of the country there is no specific location where people experience a lesser degree of pain. Pain is suffered at the same level no matter what climate a person lives within.

How to Deal With Weather-Related Pain

Individuals who suffer from weather-related pain have a variety of options available to alleviate and deal with their discomfort.

  • Increase Pain Medication: Increasing your pain medication during bouts of adverse weather may offer some short-term comfort. Migraine sufferers might want to discuss various prescription pharmaceuticals that have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.
  • Dress in Layers: Dressing in layers of clothing helps insulate your body and may protect it not just against varying temperatures but also barometric pressure.
  • Electric Blanket: An electric blanket can help relieve aching joints
  • Warm the Car: Before running errands, it is beneficial to warm the car up first to create a cozy environment and a barrier to the outdoor chill.
  • Maintain a Warm Home: Maintaining a warm home helps lessen the degree of pain associated with cold conditions.
  • Heating Pad: Use a heating pad reduces joint discomfort and swelling.
  • Stay Moving: Walking, exercise and other physical movements loosen up stiffness and may reduce bouts of weather-induced pain.
  • Heat Creams: Heat creams relax stiff joints and often bring some pain relief.

Despite evolving research into weather-related pain, scientists and researchers still continue to swing back and forth on the issue. Clearly, more research must be done on the phenomena to determine the body’s exact response to the changing weather.