Air pressure and joint pain
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
Recent surveys indicate that 70 percent of Americans believe that weather influences their well-being. This is particularly true for the certain population groups including the elderly, people with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, and women and children.
People with joint problems such as arthritis often say that they are better predictors of bad weather than the most experienced TV forecaster. In fact, 93% of arthritis sufferers believing that weather affects their pain level. It is certainly true for my patients.
A lot of research has gone into trying to figure out exact scientific mechanisms that bring about this kind of weather-related pain. Currently, however, none of the studies have produced any definitive explanation, though one factor these studies have in common is the link of pain to changing air (barometric) pressure.
Some clinicians point to the fact that the nerve endings on the joints have receptors that can sense pressure changes. Heat and cold may also affect how people feel.
A 2003 Japanese study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology found that there was a direct connection between low pressure, low temperatures and joint pain in rats.
In the first documented animal behavioral study of weather effects on joint pain, scientists artificially produced chronic inflammation of the rat's foot, which was analogous to clinical features of human neuropathic pain. When the rats were placed in a low-pressure, low-temperature environment, they exhibited signs of foot joint pain that were not seen in control rats.
A contributor to the Japanese study, Dr. Jun Sato, says that additional research has helped scientists zone in on where the rat is sensing the pressure change that causes pain. "It is highly possible that the barometric sensor and/or sensing system are located in the inner ear of rats," he said.
In addition to those afflicted with chronic joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis, many people suffering from nerve entrapment, having a limb amputated, osteoarthritis and lower back pain are also sensitive to weather changes.
This same group of Japanese scientists have also linked decreasing ambient temperatures with more pain in their rat model.
Fibromyalgia patients are particularly sensitive to barometric pressure changes, it seems, in my experience.
Another way pressure affects joint pain is with decompression sickness (DCS).
Decompression sickness is a dangerous and potentially lethal condition caused by nitrogen bubbles that form in the blood and other tissues of scuba divers who surface too quickly. Because the nitrogen bubbles that cause decompression sickness can affect any of the body's organs, including the blood, bones, nerves, and muscles, a variety of symptoms are possible. Symptoms can appear minutes after a diver surfaces, and in about 80% of cases do so within eight hours. Pain is often the only symptom; this is sometimes called the "bends". The pain, which ranges from mild to severe, is usually limited to the joints, but can be felt in other areas.
Decompression sickness is treated by giving the patient oxygen and placing them in a hyperbaric chamber. This shrinks the bubbles and allows the nitrogen to safely diffuse out of the tissues.
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