Why a Low Barometer Causes Aches and Pains
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Why a Low Barometer Causes Aches and Pains

Some people can actually tell when a storm is coming before the storm gets there just by their aches and pains. When there is a low barometer, those who have arthritis or old injuries know the barometer is falling just because of how their body feels. Learn why a low barometer causes aches and pains.

Some people say they can forecast an approaching storm by the aches and pains in their body. Some will say it is going to rain because their trick knee is hurting and others can forecast the weather because they are a human barometer. A low barometer can cause some people to have more aches and pains.

The Barometer and Air Pressure

Air pressure is the force exerted on us by the weight of the air. The air is made up of molecules and these molecules have weight to them. It is the weight of these air molecules that puts pressure on us and that is air pressure. The US National Weather Service defines air pressure as the amount of pressure exerted on a surface by the weight of the air. There is 14.7 pounds of air pressure per square inch pressing on your body or one ton (1,000 kg) of air molecules pressing down on the square foot cross section of your body. We are not crushed because we have air inside of us that equalizes this pressure [1].

Air pressure is measured by a barometer and gives us the barometric reading. The air pressure is measured in inches or millibars, inches is what we normally hear on the weather reports. A normal air pressure is 29.92 inches or 1013.25 millibars.

Low Barometer

The lower the barometer reading, the lower the air pressure is. Low pressure means fewer molecules, less weight to the air and the air is less dense. The higher in elevation you are, the less dense the air is and the lower the pressure. When you notice your ears pop when in an airplane or driving through the mountains, this is the way our body equalizes the pressure outside of us with the air pressure inside of us.

Those who have been in the eye of a hurricane or when a tornado passes over them, notice that their ears pop. The center of both hurricanes and tornadoes are very low pressure areas with a rapid pressure change.

Low Barometer Readings and Aches and Pains

There have not been many scientific studies as to why some people with arthritis, osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia feel more pain when the barometer is low. One fact that confuses this is that some people say they can tell when a storm is coming while others say they have more aches and pains once the storm is already there.

Before a storm arrives, the barometer or the air pressure will fall. After the cold front or low pressure passes is when the rainy, chilly and damp weather starts.

In many places, once the cold front or low pressure passes and the damp and chilly weather occurs, the barometer will usually start to rise to a normal air pressure reading or higher. In other places, for example the eastern United States, it can be chilly and wet with a continued low pressure reading.

It is well known that damp, chilly and humid weather can cause more aches and pains. So it seems there are two causes for aches and pains that are aggravated by the weather. It is documented that many with arthritis will ache more when it is damp and cold but not very well documented that a falling barometer causes more aches and pains.

This is the area of scientific interest, when some people notice their aches and pains before the storm arrives, when the barometer shows the air pressure is falling.

Why A Low Barometer Cause Aches and Pains

As the air pressure drops, the air molecules and gasses in the atmosphere expand. This can be shown when an inflated balloon is put into a vacuum and the air pressure is lowered, the balloon will expand.

The same thing happens in our body when the barometric pressure falls, gases and fluids surrounding our joints expand, which causes pressure against nerves and this is what might cause the aches and pain when the barometer is falling.

Not only do people with arthritis or fibromyalgia feel the falling air pressure, but also those with old injuries. An old knee or shoulder injury can cause scar tissue, when the air pressure falls; it is the injured area that aches.

Low barometric pressure can also cause headaches and migraines in some people. The changing air pressure can cause the capillaries to expand or contract causing headaches.

Low Barometer Studies

There have not been many studies pertaining to barometric pressure and aches and pains. The few studies that have been conducted have found that lower air pressure can cause aches and pains in people with various forms of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis.

In 2003, Japanese scientists using rats found that foot joint pain increased with lower temperatures and lower air pressure. [2]

A 2007 study conducted at Tufts University had 200 participants with knee osteoarthritis keep a diary of pain and weather conditions for three months. It was found that there was a consistent association between changes in air pressure as measured by a barometer and severity of pain [3].

Robert Jamison, who is assistant professor of anesthesia and psychiatry at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Pain Management Center at Harvard Medical School, believes that it is the change in air pressure that leads to pain. In his book Learning to Master Your Chronic Pain, he wrote “this leads me to conclude that changes in barometric pressure are the main link between weather and pain”. [4]

Skeptics of Low Pressure Causing Aches and Pain

Some doctors believe that it is all in the patients head, that when you know a storm is coming, your mind then tells you that your arthritis will start to act up and you will have aches and pains.

Other doctors point out that people just feel worse when the weather is damp, humid and cold. But that does not explain how and why certain people can feel aches and pains before the humid and cold weather arrives as the low pressure system approaches.


If you wonder how low air pressure affects your aches and pains, you should record the barometer readings when you feel more aches and pains. You should also note every time the barometer is low and how you feel. A low barometer reading is about 29.70 and lower. If you suffer from migraines, you might also find out that either very low or very high barometer readings trigger your migraines.

Copyright © Sam Montana February 2012

References and Resouorces

[1] National Weather Service

[2] International Journal of Biometeorology Volume 47, Number 2, 55-61, DOI: 10.1007/s00484-002-0156-9

[2] The International Journal of Biometeorology

[3] American Journal of Medicine Changes in Barometric Pressure and Ambient Temperature Influence Osteoarthritis Pain.

[4] The HarvardUniversity Gazette

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Comments (15)

Well done!

Indeed . . . indeed. This is a health topic rarely explained or even addressed. Nice presentation!

I think changes in pressure can be felt. My dogs always seem to know when a storm is coming. One of them has an old leg injury that is probably arthritic. He always hobbles more when the weather changes and he starts following me around when storms are expected, even before there are any apparent signs of it. Of course dogs can hear and smell better than we can so they might be sensing the weather in those ways too. This is a thought provoking topic.

I totally feel the changes in my joints, and sometimes even in my mood!

Very informative educational post...and well-written, too. Thanks for sharing your knowledge in this area...voted

It is hard to get going on a rainy day.

Well discussed topic with educational and interesting contents.Thank you.

Wow...an interesting read thanks Sam!

Excellent presentation, Sam. My husband gets "crickets" in his head quite loudly before storms. Will be back to vote up!

@Marilyn, my dog also knows when a storm is coming. The dogs I have had, it seems female dogs know when a storm is coming more than a male dog. I don't know why that is. @Sandy, you mean your husband hears crickets in his head before a storm. I admit, I have never heard of that before. Maybe he should read my article How to Know the Temperature by Counting Cricket Chirps:) http://insects-spiders.factoidz.com/how-to-know-the-temperature-by-counting-cricket-chirps/

Very useful information. thanks Sam

A balanced and fascinating article ... voted.

Thank you Sam for this useful health report. Voted. Thanks for your supporting friendship.

A drop in barometric pressure causing my pain levels to increase is not a foreign concept whatsoever. I have experienced this phenomenon for many years, most recently this past week. My roommate mentioned she was suddenly aching more than normal in her joints about the time I realized I was feeling a lot more pain than normal in my injured back, shoulders and knees. I stated to her that it must be getting ready to rain because what we were experiencing is the way I often felt just before it rained. She started to argue with me...and about the time the rain began to fall. It's truly a mystery to me why scientists and medical persons have not studied this phenomenon more thoroughly - or at ALL - before now. It's quite common in my experience as a former Critical Care RN and person living with chronic pain. I think if we explored it in a scientific manner more thoroughly, we may discover some interesting solutions for dealing with chronic pain. Thank you for this article. It was well-written and very interesting and informative.
Thank you Brooke for you comments and reading my article. I have many other health articles at this website if you are interested.... http://healthyfoodandlife.blogspot.com/