Most of us enjoy the warm, soothing rays of the sun upon us, and agonize through the changing of the weather into cold temperatures and dampness. The weather is a major factor in both discomfort and the process of healing.
Why does damp, chilly weather make our joints hurt? Although cold temps and humidity do bother some people, many of us suffer more when there is an abrupt change in the barometric pressure. (A winter rain or a summer storm often follows, so we associate our distress with the coming rain.) Pain results when the body is not able to adjust its internal pressure to keep in balance with the barometric pressure, which fluctuates. Air – the gasses that form the atmosphere and press down on the earth’s surface and on our bodies – has weight. That weight is known as barometric pressure. The pressure is lower at high altitudes, where there is less air pushing down, and is highest at sea level. It is measured by a barometer. If you are at sea level, the average pressure is 29.92 inches, or 760 mm. (The earliest barometers measured the actual distance that air pressure caused mercury inside a glass tube to rise.) Here in our area, pressures normally range between 29 and 31 inches, although the numbers shift constantly.
More important to most people is not the exact number representing the pressure. Instead, it is the transition that causes their joints to hurt, particularly when the pressure is changing at a fairly rapid rate from high to low. Joints that are less than 100%, from arthritis, trauma, bursitis, subluxations, etc., cannot easily adapt to that change due to impaired functional relationships with the joints. Stability is greatly decreased, and the inability to adapt is expressed as pain. Impaired tendons, muscles, and scar tissue in these joints can’t expand or contract easily. Arthritis patients can often tell you when the weather is about to change!
This type of pain is definitely not limited to knees, shoulders, etc. Some people seem to have a barometer built into their head! They are often aware, as a headache begins to build, that the outside pressure is dropping and the weather will likely become cloudy/rainy within hours. Cavities in the head, such as the spaces in the sinuses and ears, can have the same difficulty reacting to pressure change, that joint spaces do. “Weather headaches” are usually considered to be a type of migraine.
What can you do to lessen these painful effects? First, learn to recognize the conditions that trigger your particular pain. Changes in barometric pressure do not affect everyone. If you do find that your symptoms seem to follow the weather, take steps to stay mobile and comfortable: Get regular chiropractic adjustments, so that the many joints in your neck and back stay in their best alignment. Use moist heat and ice, as needed, to keep swelling to a minimum. Keep a good balance between rest and movement, to maintain flexibility and keep the fluids in your body moving. Realize that this type of pain, even though it can happen frequently, is temporary; the pressure in the joint will ease, and the excess fluid will move back into the circulation. Remember the mind/body connection: Engaging in activities that you enjoy may help distract you from the pain and relax your body. Find out what works for you!