The Link Between Barometric Pressure and Pain: What You Need to Know

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Does a change in barometric pressure cause muscle and joint pain? If you’re curious to know the answer, then you’ve come to the right place.

Barometric pressure is a measure of the force of air pressing down on the surface of the Earth, and it varies depending on the atmospheric conditions and the altitude. Think of a cylinder with a piston within it, and you’ll get the basic idea. Due to the piston’s continual movement, the volume of air — and pressure — within the cylinder is always shifting.

Some people experience discomfort due to changes in barometric pressure, such as joint pain or arthritis, while others feel nothing. So let’s explore the link between barometric pressure and pain and how barometric pressure affects the body.

How does barometric pressure affect the body?

Each day, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it, we are affected by shifts in barometric pressure. People with chronic conditions such as migraines, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, or osteoarthritis may be more sensitive to pressure changes.

High barometric pressure exerts a greater force against the body, reducing the range of motion possible for our tissues. On the other side, low atmospheric pressure allows our tissues to swell, placing more strain on our organs and nerves. For example, someone with arthritis may be able to feel a shift in air pressure in their joints, since their joint nerves are already more sensitive than average.

Barometric pressure and headaches

If you’ve ever experienced a migraine or other severe headache, you know how incapacitating they can be. Because you can never predict when your next headache will strike, you may find it difficult to plan ahead or take pleasure in life.

If you notice that your headaches seem to occur around the time the weather changes, you may be sensitive to variations in barometric pressure.

Changes in barometric pressure can trigger pressure in your sinuses, causing discomfort. You may experience the same sensation on a plane. During takeoff, the pressure in your ears may fluctuate and cause popping sensations or pain.

Recent research explored the link between shifts in barometric pressure and an increase in sales of pain relievers. The findings led the researchers to conclude that low barometric pressure contributes to an increase in headache frequency.

A woman sitting on a sofa with a headache and pain caused by barometric pressure

Barometric pressure and arthritis

Barometric pressure arthritis may be used as a potential indicator of impending weather changes. If you have arthritis, you may be able to sense an oncoming storm by a sharp increase in your joint pain. Indeed, this phenomenon seems to have some rational explanation. Here is some research on barometric pressure and joint pain:

Of 712 patients with osteoarthritis surveyed, 469 (67%) indicated that the weather had an effect on the severity of their joint pain. These findings were corroborated in other research including people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Unlike with headaches, it is not low barometric pressure itself that causes joint discomfort, but rather fluctuations in the pressure.

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Now that we know barometric pressure affects the body, ​​what level of barometric pressure causes joint pain?

Again, rather than a particular barometric pressure level, it is the fluctuations that seem to cause joint pain. In general, people report that their joint pain is at its greatest right when cold and damp weather sets in but that it subsides when the weather has stabilized.

What is the barometric pressure pain index?

The degree to which pain increases as a result of changes in pressure varies from person to person and from one situation to the next.

Although research on the long-term effects of barometric pressure on chronic pain is still in its early years, there are now apps available to help you monitor pressure shifts and predict pain flare-ups.

When planning for the next few days, you can check in with WeatherWell to see what the air pressure measurements are and how it may affect you. Tracking how you feel in different weather conditions helps to analyze what affects your pain and create your personal barometric pressure pain index.

How to manage pain caused by barometric pressure

If fluctuations in atmospheric pressure, shifts in the dominant weather pattern, or extreme temperature swings are causing you pain, try the following barometric pressure pain relief tips.

Avoid rapid transitions between hot and cold environments

If you’re particularly sensitive to temperature changes, make sure to create a stable environment around you. Minor temperature fluctuations can aggravate inflammation, causing joint pain that persists even after the source of the discomfort has been removed.

Keeping your bedroom warm after a hot shower or wearing several layers of clothing before going out in the fall or winter are two ways to avoid temperature fluctuations.

A woman holding a cup looking out of the window at the rain with barometric pressure arthritis

Be physically active

Some scientists think that avoiding physical activity because of bad weather is more likely than the weather itself to promote soreness and stiffness.

Those who don’t keep up with their normal exercise program during the colder months are more likely to have aches and pains and less flexibility than they would if they had been moving. That’s a strong argument in favor of carrying on with your regular schedule whatever the weather. If you’d rather not work out in the mud and rain, consider signing up for a class at your local gym or swimming at the local pool.

Use a dehumidifier

Experts disagree on the exact cause of “rainy day pain,” although many point to high humidity. When it’s pouring rain or snowing outdoors, a dehumidifier comes in handy.

Humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent are recommended for comfort and health.

You should also avoid places with high barometric pressure and low humidity.

Suit up in compression gear

If you have rheumatoid arthritis or any form of chronic pain, try wearing a pair of compression socks, cuffs, and gloves. Arthritis and barometric pressure can have a strong link.

When inflammation increases, swelling follows suit and can be quite painful. When the pressure reduces, you may find that you need to wear them as well.

Keep the temperature in your home at a good level

Increasing the temperature in the room may relieve discomfort, so check it out and see if there’s a connection.

Even though it’s not always apparent how temperature and discomfort are related, it could help to maintain a steady, pleasant temperature in your house.

Try a paraffin bath

Since the body rapidly absorbs the wax’s heat, it may be useful for easing sore muscles. If you need to warm an area that is hard to reach, a heating pad will do the trick.

Wrapping up

While the link between barometric pressure and pain is not fully understood, there is evidence that it can affect the body. A change in barometric pressure can cause muscle and joint pain and be a factor in migraines and headaches. If you struggle with chronic pain and are sensitive to weather changes, it’s worth paying attention to changes in barometric pressure to be prepared for what the weather brings you.

March 24, 2023