How does barometric pressure affect the human body?

Updated July 19, 2017

For years, the effect of barometric pressure on the body has been studied and disputed. There has always been anecdotal evidence suggesting the link between barometric pressure and aches and pains. Sufferers of arthritis and the elderly often suggest that they know when it is about to rain, as their joints begin to ache. In addition, many that suffer from migraines and headaches claim their condition worsens when barometric pressure falls. While there are studies that offer concrete evidence on the connection between barometric pressure and an increase in pain, many orthopaedic doctors also believe that a connection exists.

Study on Pain

A study performed in Japan in 2003 offers some of the most compelling evidence linking a drop in barometric pressure and an increase in pain. In the study, rats were artificially given inflammation in their feet. Then, some of the mice were placed in a chamber where barometric pressure dropped, and some remained at normal barometric pressure. The rats that were exposed to lower barometric pressure exhibited outward signs of pain in the feet (Chan). This research suggests that when barometric pressure drops, tissues expand. The expansion of the tissues in and surrounding joints aggravates the nerves, causing pain.

Migraines and Sinus Headaches

A barometric pressure change also has an impact on headaches, particularly sinus headaches. When barometric pressure changes, such as in an aeroplane or before a storm, gases in the sinuses and ears are at a higher pressure than those of the surrounding air. The air pressure tries to equalise, causing pain in the face and ears. Those that suffer from chronic sinusitis or have a cold have the most issues, as the air becomes trapped in the sinuses and is unable to equalise. Although, many people that suffer from migraines complain that their symptoms increase during storms, there is little evidence to suggest that this is the case.

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About the Author

Corina Fiore is a writer and photographer living in suburban Philadelphia. She earned a B.S.Ed. in Earth-Space Science from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Fiore taught high school science for 7 years and offered several teacher workshops to regarding education techniques. She worked as a staff writer for science texts and has been published in Praxis review materials for beginning teachers.