BAROMETRIC PRESSURE.

THE MAIN LINK BETWEEN

WEATHER AND PAIN.

THE WEATHER AND ACHES AND PAINS.

Monica Seles, the tennis star who was stabbed in the back during a tennis tournament in Germany, told a "Sports Illustrated" journalist (July 17, 1995) that the weather changes influenced the site of the scar. She was asked about residual pain from the injury and then stated that "the scar tingles only when rain is coming."

Medical journals have included many patients' case reports that show symptoms that worsen when the weather changes.

Arthritis, rheumatism, lower back pain and chronic muscle pain are typically linked with the weather. Remarkably one medical description for fibromyalgia (rheumatic muscle pain) includes weather-related pain as a diagnostic feature (Younis et al. 1985). Sufferers from these disorders are usually very convinced that it is cold and humid weather that makes their symptoms feel worse. They claim to be able to predict the weather from their arthritic symptoms. Such people are sometimes described as "weather sensitive". They speak of "feeling under the weather" and "my aches and pains speak of coming rains." Their ailments appear to be aggravated by certain weather conditions such as damp, chilly conditions, rising humidity, rapidly falling barometric pressure and gusty winds. These particular conditions may cause swelling of the joints and it may be that the swelling irritates the nerves around the joints that sense the pain. It is likely that the joints' membranes act as a barometer and then expand as the air pressure drops. This in turn can cause increased pressure of the fluids that lubricate the joint. More resistance to movement is then offered and it increases the pains in the joints already affected. The change in barometric pressure - the pressure that air exerts on the environment - may cause a transient "disequilibrium" in body pressure to sensitize the nerve endings, and thus account for the increased pain preceding humidity and temperature changes.

The evidence is anecdotal as there is, so far, no totally firm research evidence to suggest that day-to-day weather pattern changes, passage of lows and highs, and the accompanying slight changes in atmospheric pressure are transferred to, or sensed by, the human organism. It is accepted that the behaviour of disorders, with resulting pain, and the weather conditions relationship is established. Yet the manner of the actual transference of behaviour to nerves and muscles in these conditions is not yet clear.

Professor Robert Jamison and his colleagues (1995) work at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Pain Management Center. There the waiting rooms of pain centres fill up with more people in damp, humid weather than on warm and sunny days. They gave questionnaires to hundreds of people (557) in cities, such as Boston and Worcester USA, that have notoriously changeable weather and also to people in cities with warm, stable weather such as San Diego. Most said that weather changes affected them. Most complained about cold, damp conditions but with the majority of patients the aggravation began before the actual weather shifts.

Jamison says, "This leads me to conclude that changes in barometric pressure are the main link between weather and pain. Low pressure is generally associated with cold, wet weather and an increase in pain. Clear, dry conditions signal high pressure and a decrease in pain." (Harvard University Gazette, Sept 26. 1995)

Most weather-human response relationships are still categorized as empirical, the evidence for cause and effect being only circumstantial and very limited. There is a conflicting lack of any consistency in the data on the relationship between weather changes and pain. Some experts have argued against atmospheric conditions initiating or irritating the disease, and the possibility is raised that such pain is psychosomatic. So, as people believe that their arthritis or rheumatism is influenced by weather, this belief is dismissed as "an old wives tale".

Such an explanation or attitude does not help the sufferer in any way. Perhaps the studies have not yet been thorough enough? More comprehensive, better-designed experimental, controlled studies may be needed to investigate this issue of the effects of weather changes on pain. They should take into account the small pressure changes caused by local micro-climates as these are relatively significantly large fluctuations within the regional barometric pressure system. They may indicate raised wind strength, approaching storm or other disturbance. It was probably these local fluctuations that were experienced by the respondees to Professor Jamison's questionnaire. The significance of these local changes is explained further on the "Under the pressure" page.