The news staff at KMVT recently asked me to interview for a news story on the effects of weather changes on pain. (It airs July 23, 2014 on KMVT in Twin Falls if you would like to follow it). Weather /pain interaction is an intriguing subject matter that deserves a deeper look. To the clinicians I have worked with over the years it is no secret that a rapid change in pressure, such as rainy, snowy or otherwise “different” weather days will most likely result in a majority of patients coming into the clinic reporting increased baseline pain. Living in the climate we do, that accounts for the drastic variety of good and bad days our patients experience for their baseline pain. I have had to put aside my more naive mentality that weather changes were mostly psychologically suggestive to create higher pain levels for one individual over another. The main reason why I believe weather changes are a relevant painful experience for individuals with arthritis, damaged joints or myofascia pain is the anecdotal evidence. In other words, I have seen it too consistently and predictably in a clinical setting to ignore.
On that note, the subject of human health interacting with weather changes, or human biometeorology, has been studied in “labratories” as well with some evidence to support the theory of “WHY”. The main theory supporting this interactive pain experience remains that a decrease in atmospheric pressure causes an increase in internal joint surfaces and tissues. Those surfaces have pressure and pain receptors on them called mechanoreceptors. Embedded in compromised or damaged tissue surfaces, the pressure thresholds required to elicit a pain response in the brain are much more sensitive. Decreased pressure on the outside of a joint / tissue surface will cause a resultant increased pressure inside the system. Thus we see, when precipitation occurs, lower atmospheric pressure ensues and increased joint pressure will result before it has a chance to normalize again. The theory has very few holes that can be punched in it, and just try to tell someone who feels that pain it is all in their head. It doesn’t generally turn out to be a good discussion starter.
Believers of this theory may support their conviction with various studies. One study comes from Philadelphia performed in the 60s that took those with Rheumatoid Arthritis and placed them in a chamber and dropped barometric pressure and increased humidity. This study found a link between increased symptoms of the individuals and these changes. Another, A 2003 Japanese study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology, found that there was a direct connection between low pressure, low temperatures and increased joint pain in rats.
Skeptics of this theory will tout that there is no consistency that has been formally documented regarding humidity, temperature and pressure across subjects to a point of determinant confidence. It is common for those who experience pain at a chronic level to have variable symptoms compared to one another no matter the stimuli surrounding the circumstances though. Most individuals will not have similar responses from stimuli across a patient cohort because they have varying levels of scar tissue, damaged surfaces, inflammatory levels or otherwise.
Whatever side of the biometeorlogical fence you sit on, those that experience pain from previous injury or painful joint/tissue diseases will tell you more often than not, that “they believe”. We still feel the weather man can have job security despite the numerous human weather sensors found throughout society.