Like a lot of people, I check the weather in the morning. But, unlike most people, I have a different reason to do so. I want to see how my patients will be feeling, especially the older ones and patients with chronic inflammation such as fibromyalgia.
When I was new in practice, I noticed several patients would have a “bad day” at the same time. At first, I wasn’t clear about why. Were they all overdoing it? Perhaps a viral infection was going around. Was it my last treatment?
It turns out the answer is simpler than all that. It’s not just an “old wives’ tale.” Patients with chronic pain tend to have more of it when a storm is coming. There is some research to support this. One study of 62 rheumatic patients showed definite spikes of pain with weather changes.
For some, there is one specific area they feel when the weather is bad. For others, the weather affects their whole body. They ache “all over.” There may be a headache and even fatigue and mental fogginess. Sinus pressure also can be affected by an oncoming storm. It isn’t always consistent. Some storms bother patients more than others, and some patients, despite being in pain, are not affected by the weather at all.
Most weather-sensitive people notice the pain starts about a day before the storm hits. This lead to the theory that it is the changing barometric pressure that increases the pain. We’ve all heard the weatherman say, “the barometer is falling.” This means the air pressure is dropping, usually because of an approaching storm. And because a hallmark of inflammation is swelling, the drop in air pressure allows the swollen tissues to expand even more.
Another weather-related health effect I see in the spring and fall is acute stiff necks, which is what prompted this topic. I must have seen five or six cases last week alone. Typically the patient wakes with it, but they can’t remember any injury that would have caused it. They assume they just “slept wrong.” For most patients, the problem resolves itself after a few days. But if there is an underlying problem, it can turn chronic and will not go away without treatment. For whatever reason, we just don’t see as much of this in the winter or summer.
For patients who suffer with weather changes, there is help beyond painkillers. The wellness approach to this type of chronic pain and inflammation is to address the problem at its source — or, more commonly, its many sources.
For more localized problems, chronic muscle tension can be treated with electrotherapy, deep-tissue release and stretching. Joint problems are common with long-term pain and respond best to manipulation. The actual style of manipulation can be adapted for the patient. We are trained to modify our treatments for seniors, patients with arthritis or osteoporosis.
Anti-inflammatory herbs also are very effective. Turmeric, boswellia and willow bark have been used for centuries for chronic pain and inflammation. Unlike anti-inflammatory drugs, which use a chemically altered version of the natural substances in the herbs, they do not damage the stomach, heart or liver with long-term use.
Finally, one of the most effective treatments for chronic pain and inflammation is acupuncture. Patients often ask how acupuncture works. I think the best explanation is that it jump-starts the healing process. Chronic pain may have been started by an injury, but a healthy body should be able to heal itself. If the pain persists, it can be seen as a failure of the healing process. It may be blocked because of a poor diet, a lack of activity and exercise, or chronic mental and emotional stress. Whatever the reason, acupuncture helps many people heal injuries that have been stuck, failing to heal, for years.
It also is important to treat chronic inflammation and pain from a dietary perspective. Our modern diets are very “pro-inflammatory.” We tend to eat foods with a fatty acid balance that favors inflammation, such as grains, grain-fed meats and vegetable oils. We also eat lots of processed foods: soda, sugars, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, refined cereals and pastries. A healthier diet of whole foods, grass-fed meats, minimal sweets and pastries and water to drink will improve your body’s natural healing process and possibly help you to dread weather changes a little bit less.
Dr. Michael Noonan practices chiropractic, chiropractic acupuncture and other wellness therapies in Old Town. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.