For centuries, people with back pain have complained that their symptoms worsen with changes in humidity and barometric pressure.
Despite that long history, however, experts with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) say there’s simply no hard evidence showing how such weather affects back pain.
Still, doctors say reports of back pain and other types of arthritic pain getting worse when there are swings in barometric pressure continue to come in and there are various theories as to why.
One theory is that changes in barometric pressure could somehow affect the fluid that surrounds and lubricates joints, says Dr. Edward Hanley, chairman of the orthopedic surgery department at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.
However, because such changes in barometric pressure typically don’t have other significant effects on the body, it’s hard to determine why or how they’d impact the joints.
“The changes in the atmospheric barometric pressure are so subtle that it’s very difficult to detect any differences in pressure within joints or the spine,” he explains.
Hanley says that most back pain that people experience is related to problems in the vertebral disks in the spine. The disks can act as shock absorbers, and they are less able to withstand normal stresses as people age.
To avoid back pain, the AAOS advises exercising to keep muscles that support your back strong and flexible; using correct lifting techniques; maintaining a healthy weight; avoiding smoking; and maintaining proper posture when sitting and standing.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD