As someone who has dealt with chronic pain for years, I know how frustrating it can be to try to understand what, exactly, causes a flare-up of pain. Many people with chronic pain conditions know that their diet, sleep patterns, or activity levels can be a trigger. But one factor many people might not take into account is the weather.
Research shows there is a link between changes in temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and health problems, especially chronic pain conditions. This type of association has been termed “weather-sensitive pain.” Learning how to identify pain triggers and discovering whether your pain may be caused by changes in the weather can help you to predict and take more control over your pain.
Barometric pressure headaches
People with headaches and migraines can be sensitive to weather changes. One study followed migraine headache patients over one year and found that a little over 60% of the patients were weather sensitive, with atmospheric pressure changes associated with migraine headache attacks. In another study, lower temperature and higher relative humidity also correlated with the onset of migraines in a subset of the subjects. These results suggest that barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity changes may be a trigger for headache pain.
Does cold weather affect arthritis?
Is it a myth that people with arthritis can predict the weather? Studies show that weather can, in fact, have a major effect on arthritic pain. Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are affected by changes in the weather. In one study, patients with hip osteoarthritis exhibited a relationship between increased pain severity and atmospheric pressure fluctuations.
Other studies have suggested the use of hyperbaric treatment in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers suggest that this type of treatment, which delivers oxygen under high pressure, might increase oxygen flow to tissues and increase blood flow, both of which could decrease the inflammatory processes that contribute to pain and have a favorable effect on damaged tissue. They conclude that high pressure treatment might be a viable alternative for arthritis patients.
Changes in weather can also cause exacerbations in pain in the chewing muscles associated with a condition called temperomandibular joint disorder. One study found that temperature, pressure, and humidity all were predictors of increased pain perception in patients with chronic temporomandibular pain.
Keep a pain diary
Keeping a diary that tracks your pain intensity along with possible triggers is the best way to identify factors that might be making your pain worse. Record your meals, sleep quality, stress levels, and other factors. Make sure to include notes about the weather, including temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure (which can all be found in your local weather report). Maintain your pain diary for at least 2 months and begin looking for trends.
If weather does affect your pain levels, then you may be able to better predict flare-ups and prepare accordingly. While you may not be able to control the weather, better knowing when your pain might occur can allow you to have more control over your treatment options.
- If cold bothers your pain, keep warm by dressing in layers and warming your home.
- Keep moving before going outside to loosen your joints and warm up your muscles.
- Use ionizers or air humidifiers in your home. Some people with weather-related pain conditions like headaches find that dry air makes their pain worse. Others find that high humidity triggers a headache, so you might need to try a dehumidifier instead.
Everyone is different, and certain weather conditions that cause one person a flare might not be a problem for another. Trial and error can help you to find strategies that help to minimize your pain and exposure to triggers.
Share your experience
Does your pain get worse with the weather? What do you do to help? Share your tips and stories in the comments section below.
Originally published in 2014, this post has been updated.