Why Does Pain Increase with Weather Changes?
September 12, 2022 - Written By: Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT
Do you ever feel that your joints, bones, muscles, and/or head start to ache more when a storm is on the horizon? Have you ever been called a human barometer because sensations throughout your body could predict bad weather better than the local news meteorologists? Have you ever wondered why you are more sensitive to changes in the weather compared to other people?
If you have a history of fibromyalgia, migraines, arthritis, fractures, orthopedic trauma, surgeries, or chronic joint pain, you may be sensitive to changes in the weather. Possible explanations are the changes in barometric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity.
Barometric pressure is the pressure of the atmosphere or the force or weight of the air around us. The measurement of barometric pressure allows meteorologists to predict short-term changes in the weather. Rapidly falling barometric pressure indicates that a low-pressure system is coming. Low-pressure systems often predict rainy, cloudy, or windy weather because there is not enough air pressure required to push away the clouds.
Lower barometric pressure means decreased amounts of pressure in the atmosphere pushing up against the body. This causes the tissues and blood vessels in the body to swell or expand, which can be irritating to people with sensitive nerves throughout the body, often resulting in painful sensations of the joints, muscles, tendons, and/or head.
Shifts in the barometric pressure may trigger migraine attacks. Normally, the air in the atmosphere and the pockets of air in the sinuses within the head are equal. However, rapid drops in external air pressure cause changes in the internal pressure within the sinuses, potentially leading to migraines. Additionally, rapid changes in temperature from cold to hot or hot to cold and even lightning can trigger migraine attacks.
Tips to avoid migraines triggered by weather changes include staying hydrated, remaining indoors, keeping updated on the weather forecast especially the barometric pressure in advance, exercising, avoiding additional migraine triggers, and asking your doctor if preventative medications might be helpful.
Arthritic joints, including those affected by rheumatoid arthritis, may be more sensitive to changes in barometric pressure. Some studies have shown that tenderness and joint pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis increased on rainy days and cold winter days.
Colder weather may impact the viscosity (or thickness) of the fluid inside the joints, making them stiffer and more painful. Low barometric pressure may increase swelling in the joints, irritating the nerve endings of the joint and causing pain.
Tips to manage joint pain on bad weather days include taking warm baths or showers, using warm compresses, layering up on the clothing to stay warm (on cold days), massaging the affected joints, and gently stretching and lightly exercising the affected joints. Compression gloves, socks, or sleeves may reduce or limit the amount of swelling that can occur in joints.
People with diabetes may find that their blood sugar is more difficult to control during bad weather. When blood sugar drops as a response to environmental factors, it may result in low barometric pressure fatigue and may also trigger migraines.
When the temperature falls, your blood vessels constrict to conserve heat internally. Less blood flows to the extremities which may cause stiffness and pain in the joints. The heart works harder to pump more blood through these narrower blood vessels, increasing the pressure to overcome the higher resistance within the blood vessels (higher blood pressure). Blood pressure is also affected by rapid changes in barometric pressure, humidity, clouds, or wind.
Bad weather can also affect a person’s mood which may also impact pain levels. One study showed that lower barometric pressure levels correlated with higher stress levels. These higher stress levels were associated with higher pain intensity levels.
The bottom line?
Weather changes have been shown to increase pain levels, trigger headaches, impact mood, and affect both blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
You certainly are not crazy in thinking that you are better at predicting the weather than the meteorologists because your body legitimately might tell you a storm is coming far in advance.
References and Resources
Feel it? 4 ways barometric pressure affects your health. Migraine Again. Accessed August 31, 2022.
How does barometric pressure affect humans? MedicineNet. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Does weather actually affect pain severity? Fox Valley Orthopedics. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Why do joints hurt when the weather changes? The Pain Center. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Why do old injuries ache in the cold? Merivale Hand Clinic. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Barometer. National Geographic. Accessed August 31, 2022.
Fagerlund AJ, Iversen M, Ekeland A, Moen CM, Aslaksen PM. Blame it on the weather? The association between pain in fibromyalgia, relative humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. PLoS One. 2019;14(5):e0216902. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0216902
Shulman BS, Marcano AI, Davidovitch RI, Karia R, Egol KA. Nature’s wrath-The effect of weather on pain following orthopaedic trauma. Injury. 2016;47(8):1841-1846. doi:10.1016/j.injury.2016.05.043
Martin GV, Houle T, Nicholson R, Peterlin A, Martin VT. Lightning and its association with the frequency of headache in migraineurs: an observational cohort study. Cephalalgia. 2013;33(6):375-383. doi:10.1177/0333102412474502
Azzouzi H, Ichchou L. Seasonal and weather effects on rheumatoid arthritis: Myth or reality? Pain Res Manag. 2020;2020:5763080. doi:10.1155/2020/5763080
Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT
Maria Arini Lopez, PT, DPT, CSCS, CIMT, CMTPT is a freelance medical writer and Doctor of Physical Therapy from Maryland. She has expertise in the therapeutic areas of orthopedics, neurology, chronic pain, gastrointestinal dysfunctions, and rare diseases, especially Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.