Blame it on the barometric pressure: Any change in pressure, or the weight of the air pressing against the surface of the earth, can trigger joint pain or headaches in some people.
So when your great-aunt said she could “feel” a storm coming on, she was likely right.
“Arthritis affects everything else within the joint itself, including the joint lining, which we call the synovium, as well as the ligaments that are within the joint,” Dr. James Gladstone, co-director of sports medicine at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told weather.com. “All of those tissues have nerve endings in them, so they’re going to feel changes in the weather as tightness in the joint, or stiffness.”
Although research conclusions on this have been mixed, anecdotal evidence from patients — and most experts — support a link between the two. According to a survey published in the journal Pain, two-thirds of people living with chronic joint complaints in San Diego, Nashville, Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, believed there to be a link between their pain and weather changes.
The same goes for migraines, which patients also say are linked to weather patterns. Barometric pressure changes, as well as changes in humidity and temperature, might affect the pressure in the brain, or the way the brain blocks pain, Dr. Steven Graff-Radford, director of the program for headache and orofacial pain at the Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told weather.com last year, though the mechanism is somewhat unknown. “What’s quite clear, however, is that overcast, cloudy and rainy days produce more migraine headaches,” he said.
Depending on how severe joint or headache pain is, patients should see their doctors to create a changing-weather treatment plan, Dr. Gladstone said.
As the seasons shift, weekend warriors who don’t typically have joint pain should take extra precautions, as well, he added. “Anything cold causes muscles, ligaments and tendons to sort of tighten up, and that makes them stiffer,” Dr. Gladstone said. “So if you’re going to be doing stuff in cold weather, you want to make sure you warm up well first, and as importantly, have protective clothing on, so you don’t get too cold.”
Stretching indoors, jogging in place (if you’re going for a run), heat creams and heating pads can all help loosen up stiff joints, Dr. Gladstone said, adding. “The main thing is to make sure you warm up well.”
As for weather-related pain, it hurts, but it’s only temporary: Your joints should return to normal as soon as the weather changes.