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Back Talk: Pain in the forecast

By By Dr. Layne Towery
Feb. 11, 2014 at midnight
Updated Feb. 10, 2014 at 8:11 p.m.


Every time the weather changes or a cold front or storm moves in, my muscles and joints hurt more. Is there any scientific validity to my weather forecasting ability? Do others seem to have the same problems with increased pains? What can I do at home to relieve the pain? Would acupuncture give me any relief of this pain and discomfort? How about chiropractic treatments?

It's true that many people with back and neck pain or other joint complaints are often surprisingly accurate in predicting when storms are approaching or bad weather is coming. The phenomenon is nothing new and dates back to the fifth century B.C., when Hippocrates suggested many illnesses were related to the weather changes.

Since then, there have been a number of musculoskeletal disorders that have been identified as being especially sensitive to changing weather conditions. These include osteoarthritis, tension headaches, back and neck pain and fibromyalgia symptoms. You see, it is not just you who hurts when the weather changes; it affects thousands of people every day.

A variety of meteorologic factors have been suggested as the culprit, including temperature, precipitation, humidity, thunderstorms and increased ionization of the air. These may have some effect, but research has shown that lowered atmospheric barometric pressure that often precedes bad weather is the main reason you hurt.

Various mechanisms have been proposed to account for this relationship, but it most likely involves the expansion of fluid in swollen joints following fluctuations of barometric pressure. Drops in pressure expand this extra joint fluid, stretching the joint capsule and activating a nociceptive pain response. This happens on a very small scale that can not be easily quantified by scientific means, so the process is therefore hypothetical.

The use of ice or heat on the area of pain may help. I also recommend using a home transelectrical nerve stimulator to most of my patients. Therapeutic massage may also be helpful.

Many times chiropractic manipulation and acupuncture offer major relief. Regular exercise, good nutrition and supplementation are also important.

Remember, weather changes don't cause pain but exacerbates inflammation that's already there. Not every one experiences pain when a storm is brewing, only the ones with a pre-existing problem.

I have been having pain in my posterior shoulder. It aches, and I have trouble throwing a ball. Extending my arm backward also hurts. It effects my sleep, and I can not lie on that side for long. Over-the-counter pain pills do not help. Do I have a torn rotator cuff? Will I need surgery. Do I need therapy?

The first thing you need to do is to have an examination performed on your shoulder to determine the origin of your problem. It may be a torn rotator cuff or it may a nerve pinched off in your neck.

A chiropractic consultation and exam will determine the cause of your pain. X-rays or an MRI may be needed to make a proper diagnosis. Try a conservative approach before having any type of surgery.

Layne Towery is a Victoria chiropractor and acupuncturist and can be reached at towerygl@yahoo.com or 361-570-6284.

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