Is the pain during rain all in your brain?
Can you feel the rain coming in your joints? It’s an idea that goes back at least to Hippocrates, nearly 2500 years ago: the weather may affect some chronic health conditions. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may already have direct experience with “arthritis weather,” and some people with other chronic pain conditions report that their pain gets worse when it rains.
There’s a plausible hypothesis for this perceived correlation. Rain typically comes with a drop in barometric pressure: the low pressure system you may have heard your local weather person forecast. Lower pressure outside your body may cause tissues inside your body to swell and irritate sensitive nerves. However, this explanation has not been proven, and some scientists point out that the changes in air pressure are about the same as riding in an elevator to the top of a tall building.
Other scientists speculate that high humidity may be to blame. Or a drop in temperature. Or the psychology of gray, dreary days. Whatever the underlying mechanism may be, the lived experience for many patients is clear: rain days are pain days.
Science has long attempted to study this anecdotal wisdom, but the results have been mixed. Some studies have found no correlation between pain and weather. Others have found evidence to support a connection between pain and low barometric pressure or high humidity. Both high and low temperatures have also had a correlation to pain in some studies.
So what can you do for rainy day pain?
While we don’t know for sure that rainy weather makes pain worse, you know when you’re hurting. Always follow your pain management doctor’s usual instructions. But here are a few things you might try to ease the pain on rainy days:
- Run a dehumidifier. When it’s wet outside, use a dehumidifier to keep your indoor air at 40-60% relative humidity for comfort and health.
- Wear compression socks, cuffs, and gloves. Rheumatoid arthritis and some other causes of chronic pain get worse with swelling and inflammation. Whether it’s caused by a low pressure system or something else, compression garments over the affected joints can bring down swelling and promote good circulation.
- Adjust your thermostat. While the correlations between temperature and pain are not at all clear, keeping your home at a comfortable temperature may help.
- Get some easy exercise. If you’re able and if your doctor approves it, light exercise may help loosen up your joints and bring down swelling. It can also lift your rainy day mood.
- Be good to yourself. This is important every day, but those rainy day blues can heighten pain. Serious depression or anxiety can make pain even worse. Treat yourself well. If you’re experiencing something deeper or longer-lasting than an unhappy day, reach out for support. Caring for your emotional health can help ease the pain.
Here for you in all kinds of weather.
If you’re not already getting help managing your chronic pain, or if your pain is getting worse, we hope you’ll reach out. No matter what the weather forecast, there’s a lot we can do to ease your pain.
Make an appointment with a pain management specialist. We’d like to help.