February 6, 2020
You may have once had an elderly relative who would say, “Oh, I can feel this storm in my bones.” You’d probably give them a sympathetic smile and a slight eye roll. “Aunt Betsy, you cannot feel storms,” you would say with a sigh. But what if we told you she could? When the barometric pressure changes outside, our bodies actually have an internal reaction. In fact, barometric pressure can impact your chronic conditions, too.
What is Barometric Pressure?
Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure, is the measurement of air pressure in the atmosphere. More specifically, it is the measurement of the weight exerted by air molecules at a given point on Earth. Barometric pressure varies depending on where you are in the world and is impacted by a variety of factors.
One of those factors is where you are in relation to the sea level.
Barometric pressure also impacts outside forces like the weather. This is the way meteorologists can track weather and gauge storms moving through. This is especially important for tracking hurricanes and typhoons.
But what does this type of pressure have to do with your health, and what are the barometric pressure effects on the body?
High or Low Barometric Pressure Effects on the Body (Pain)
Not only do changes in barometric pressure cause storms to bubble up across the radar, but they can actually change your blood pressure and increase joint pain. While this may be further impacted by precipitation and changes in temperature, there is something to be said about the way atmospheric pressure impacts our bodies.
According to Mother Nature Network, barometric pressure effects on the body include:
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches and migraines are two of the most common low barometric pressure effects on the body. Neurologist in chief at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Matthew Fink explained that low barometric pressure can actually cause migraines and headaches. This is due to the difference in pressure between the air and the sinuses. Studies have found that when patients who experience migraines kept a log for a year, the most commonly noted change was that of the barometric pressures, as recorded by their local weather station. The findings of the study showed that there was a direct correlation between lower barometric pressure and the onset of the migraine.
Joint pain is another important low barometric pressure effect on the body. In a study by Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, patients with knee osteoarthritis found a link between the changes in barometric pressure increased the severity of their knee pain. Studies suggest that the dropping barometric pressure impacts the viscosity of the fluid which lines joint sacs or that the change in pressure impacts pain responses of the nerve endings. The Weather Channel further adds that with these changes in barometric pressure and cold weather, the importance to warm up before outside activity is critical.
Think about it: blood moves through the body using pressure created by the heart. So in a way, it would only make sense that air pressure would impact our internal systems. This is one of the most common examples of high or low barometric pressure effects on the body.
According to biometeorologist Jennifer Vanos, Ph.D., when the barometric pressure drops, so does your blood pressure. When we look at trends in blood pressure screenings, blood pressure is usually higher in the winter when the temperature is lower because your blood vessels are more narrow.
You can use a barometric pressure pain index to diagnose the level of pain. Arthritis Foundation provides an online barometric pressure pain index to help you manage your pain better. Knowing about the changes in barometric pressure allows you to manage your activities accordingly.
Low or High Barometric Pressure Effects on the Body (Chronic Conditions)
We know that our lifestyle and changes in routine and medications can impact our chronic conditions. But the weather also plays an important role. Both low and high barometric pressure effects on the body can result in elevating different chronic conditions. Take a look at how the following chronic conditions are impacted by barometric pressure.
- Arthritis: Scientists from the European Project on Osteoarthritis found that with changes in barometric pressure came the expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissue which resulted in pain in the tissues most impacted by arthritis. This remains the most common low and high barometric pressure effect on the body.
- Chronic Back Pain: As with joint pain and arthritis, for those who experience chronic back pain, the extreme change in barometric pressure can cause inflamed joints to swell more, perpetuating preexisting pain. Cold temperatures also do not help as it stiffens the joints, tendons, and muscles which support the spine. These changes cause a reduction in blood flow to the back, stiffening the spine.
- Carpal Tunnel: In the past, we’ve talked about carpal tunnel syndrome being triggered by colder temperatures and wet, snowy weather. But pain is further perpetuated by increased pressure on the median nerve. This is one of the typical high barometric pressure effects on the body.
Understanding the Barometric Pressure Pain Index
How this type of pressure impacts your body very well changes depending on what pre-existing pain and discomfort you are feeling when the pressure change occurs. While scientists are still working to understand the lasting impacts of barometric pressure on chronic pain, there are applications out there that help you track changes in pressure so you can stay ahead of your symptoms.
You can also log into your local weather station to find out what current atmospheric pressure readings are to prepare for the days ahead. Also, keep your barometric pressure pain index handy.
You can use a barometric pressure pain index for self-assessment of pain and function. The Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC) is widely used in the evaluation of Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis.
While you find the application that’s right for you, you may be wondering what else you can do to help make chronic pain from arthritis or carpal tunnel subside.
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NOTE: Content included here is not medical advice, and only is intended as information for adults. Always consult with your health care professional before making changes to diet, exercise, medication, or before the use of any product or device.