LIVING WELL: Weather can cause pain for several reasons
DR. MARK KESTNER, Post Columnist
Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:00 am
This past week’s drastic weather changes have brought about increased pain for a number of area residents.
Practically everyone knows someone who can accurately predict when weather will change by the sensations they feel from arthritis pain, sinus pain and even fibromyalgia.
Although most people recognize this relationship exists, few people are aware of the reasons behind the pain.
Most researchers believe the pain tends to be related to either temperature or barometric pressure changes.
First, let's take the barometric pressure changes. Inside your body, including the joint spaces, there are a number of cavities or air spaces. In many cases, the pressure within these inner spaces is actually lower than the outside barometric pressure.
When the barometric pressure changes gradually, your body has adequate opportunity to adjust. Even closed spaces within the body, for example joint spaces or sinus cavities that might be closed off due to congestion, can gradually change pressure. This allows the pressure gradient between the inside and the outside to even out slowly over time.
However, when the barometric pressure changes rapidly, as when the storm approaches, there is little time for the body to adjust.
Consequently, the interior spaces will be exposed to a severe pressure difference between the inside and outside, which can cause pain in the surrounding tissue as the body membranes are pushed either inward or outward.
Many people who experience pain as the weather changes will notice that the pain may gradually go away over several hours as their body eventually adjusts to change in temperature and pressure.
Barometric pressure differences are also the reason that many people experience sinus headaches or pain behind the eye when weather suddenly changes.
Throughout your head are located sinus cavities. Like very small caverns, these areas are small air-filled spaces that normally remain clear.
However, various conditions can cause excess mucus production that can lead to congestion. This can block the airways communicating between the cavities and outside air.
The sinus cavities can be blocked by congestion or inflammation. When this happens the pressure within the cavity remains constant, rather than fluctuating with the weather.
When the barometric pressure in our environment changes drastically, the pressure within the sinus cavity is either too great or too little and pain results.
Changes in outside temperature also affect painful conditions. For example, when the weather turns cold, many people with arthritis will notice an immediate increase in pain in their joints.
Recently, some new and innovative research brought attention to more subtle factors that are related to weather changes.
It has been noted by some patients that when they are exposed to cold air with wet hair they may experience sinus pain or pain behind the eye. Recently, a small study was done to try to determine why this would happen.
The result of the study was surprising to many. It was based on the fact that the body must maintain a very constant temperature in the brain.
Researchers found that when the wet hair came in contact with cold temperature, an immediate drop in temperature of the scalp occurred. This is because the body reacts by making immediate changes in the sinuses to protect brain tissue. Tissue lining the sinus cavities could become inflamed to generate warmth within the head.
Many people also say warm, dry weather conditions results in less pain overall. Not only does this improve the condition of the sinuses, as well as the joints, it can result in less muscle pain as well.
When exposed to colder air the muscles naturally contract. In addition, the actual connective tissue with your body changes when exposed to cold weather.
Just as gelatin desserts set up a quickly in the refrigerator, the fluids in your connective tissue tend to gel and become less pliable when exposed to cold.
Although people who have joint injuries tend to be more susceptible to weather changes, this also applies to people who have had joint surgery.
To reduce the effects of the weather, layering clothes or possibly using a neoprene sleeve over sensitive joints may help.