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Why Does My Knee Hurt When It Rains

by Kristin Beck
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Why Does My Knee Hurt When It Rains

Why Does My Knee Hurt When It Rains

“It’s raining outside. You’re walking to work in a short-sleeved shirt, but it feels like someone is squeezing the life out of your chest. The air inside your lungs has been replaced by moisture, and every breath hurts. As soon as you get to work, you head straight for the coffee pot. Your face turns red from all that sucking oxygen through water vapor, and then you notice something else — your knee is really hurting!
The cause of this discomfort isn’t just rainwater or even general humidity. Low barometric pressure (the amount of atmospheric pressure) actually puts less atmospheric pressure on the body, and tissues can swell. Swelling can apply extra pressure to your joints, and especially for already sensitive achy joints, you’ll feel more pain.
While low barometric pressure may seem like a rare condition, it happens fairly often during typical rainfall events. In fact, if you live anywhere near the coast, some places experience weather changes so rapidly that they have no time to adjust their local barometric pressures before severe storms hit.
In addition to physical effects, low barometric pressure can also affect people with certain medical conditions. For example, patients who suffer from sleep apnea will wake up feeling dazed because there was little room available for carbon dioxide exchange during heavy snoring episodes. And those who use supplemental oxygen are at risk for hypoxia due to sudden drops in barometric pressure.
So how does barometric pressure drop? Find out next.
Barometric Pressure Drop Causes Pain
When we talk about barometric pressure dropping, we’re not talking about the weather report on TV. Barometric pressure is an indicator of the amount of atmospheric pressure around us. The lower the pressure, the higher the altitude.
We measure barometric pressure using the millibars scale. A millibar represents 1/1000th of the standard atmosphere, which is equal to 14.7 pounds per square inch. This means that when the millibars fall below 31, the barometric pressure becomes negative. Negative barometric pressure occurs when the air pressure is lower than what we normally feel. An airplane flying into a storm cloud experiences this kind of negative pressure.
A decrease of only one millibar equates to a 1 percent increase in air density. That means that if the current level of barometric pressure is 30 millibars, and another town’s reported pressure is 29 millibars, the person downwind would immediately feel the difference in air quality.
As you might guess, extreme weather events can cause dramatic decreases in barometric pressure. Hurricane Katrina caused Mississippi’s barometric pressure to plummet from 28 inches above sea level to minus 4 inches. Hurricane Andrew wreaked havoc on Florida, causing a massive 25-millibar drop and destroying homes and businesses throughout the state. After the hurricane, residents were left without power, fresh food or clean drinking water for weeks.
What causes these kinds of fluctuations in barometric pressure? Weather systems move quickly across the planet, creating wind shear and precipitation patterns. These disturbances can alter the normal flow of air over landmasses, sometimes resulting in large differences in air pressure between different regions.
Wind shear creates waves, called Rossby waves, named after meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby who discovered them in 1914. Rossby waves travel thousands of miles across the globe and cause localized areas of high and low pressure. If two such waves collide, they create troughs and peaks of air. The troughs and highs form bands of low and high pressure that eventually spread across the entire sky.
During periods of strong winds, such as hurricanes, the air moves faster along the ground. This increases wind shear and makes it difficult for air molecules to find each other, lowering the overall air pressure. Likewise, when there are calm days, the air tends to stagnate and become trapped beneath layers of stagnant air. This lowers the total air pressure.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that in parts of the United States, barometric pressure could drop by 10 millibars within 24 hours. While NOAA doesn’t predict any specific locations experiencing these drastic drops, it does warn people to be prepared for the possibility.
If you do happen to get caught in a weather disaster, keep reading to learn about what to do in case you lose consciousness.
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Storm clouds aren’t always dark gray. They come in many colors, including white, blue, green, yellow and orange. Scientists believe that these hues arise because the droplets contained within the thunderheads absorb light differently. However, the exact reason why certain colors appear remains unknown [Source: Schubert].­
How to Prepare for Rapid Barometric Changes
You’ve heard that lightning kills electricity, right? Well, did you know that it can kill barometric pressure too? Lightning strikes can disrupt the flow of electrical currents, disrupting the transfer of chemical energy within cells and potentially damaging tissue. Unfortunately, the damage is irreversible.
But don’t fret — rapid barometric changes aren’t necessarily fatal. In fact, most people handle these situations surprisingly well. But if you want to protect yourself, here are a few tips to follow :
Stay indoors. If possible, wait until the worst of the storm passes before venturing outdoors. During extremely dangerous weather events, stay home and avoid driving whenever possible. Try to maintain a safe distance from trees and power lines.

Keep windows closed. Cover your windows with plastic film to prevent glass shards from breaking while you navigate debris-clogged streets. Also, close curtains and blinds to block harmful UV rays.

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration contributes to headaches, nausea and muscle cramps. Make sure to drink lots of liquids to replenish lost blood volume.

Avoid smoke and fumes. Smoke interferes with respiration and circulation, while fumes released during tornadoes and flooding contribute to respiratory distress. Avoid both substances as much as possible.

Watch for signs of shock. Signs include cold clammy skin, shivering, dilated pupils, weakness, dizziness, weak pulse, hot flashes and fever. Be aware that these symptoms vary widely among individuals because everyone metabolizes drugs and alcohol differently.

Listen to your body. Pay attention to your surroundings and listen carefully for directions. Take note of landmarks and street names.

 

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ emergency management page.

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