“I can tell it is going to rain” is a common phrase I hear from patients with an arthritic joint.
Most patients brush off their increased pain as an old wives tale, but there is some physiological truth behind this tale.
The majority of joints in the human body are a closed system that has its own pressure level. Joints that have a pathological condition, such as osteoarthritis, have a higher than normal pressure within the joint space and the temperature does not have much affect on the joint pressure.
As the weather changes, the joint pressure remains the same. However, when the atmospheric pressure changes, this results in the patient experiencing different intensities of pain.
When the atmospheric pressure is high, there is a lesser degree of difference in the joint and the atmosphere. When the atmospheric pressure is low, there is a greater difference of pressure in the joint compared to the atmosphere.
This greater difference in pressure results in an increased feeling of pain, typically an achy sensation. The pressure in the joint has not increased, but the decrease in atmospheric pressure make the joint pressure more noticeable.
Weather fronts travel from high pressure areas to low pressure areas. These weather fronts bring a change in weather, including precipitation. Just before rain storm comes into the area, there is a low pressure system present. This is why there is a fluctuation in arthritic joint pain before it rains, and how your joint can be a reliable barometer.
As a physical therapist, I am not a weather expert. However, I do know that particular exercises, movement, and manual therapy can decrease joint pressure. By controlling joint pressure there will be less joint pain, and less pain when the weather or atmospheric pressure changes.
Joe Flannery, PT, DPT, OCS, CIMT is the Clinical Director for Tidewater Physical Therapy’s Williamsburg Physical Therapy and Aquatic Center.